Fortnightly rubbish collections 'not health hazard'

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The Independent Online

The end of traditional weekly rubbish collections appeared a step nearer today after a report declared that fortnightly pick-ups need not create health hazards.

Meanwhile, another study, by Government waste body Wrap, is expected to reveal that the average household in Britain discards almost a third of all the food it buys, totalling 6.7 million tonnes a year.

A third of local councils have already reduced waste collections as part of moves to encourage households increase recycling.

The new Government-commissioned research, which states that if waste is properly wrapped there should be no hygiene concerns, will intensify the pressure on others to follow suit.

Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Collecting recyclables one week and residual waste the following week has increased the amount of recycling.

"Recycling is a major part of our battle against dangerous climate change - the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

"The research shows that alternate week collections work best when the public are informed well in advance of any change."

The current experiment with reducing waste collections covers roughly 10 million households.

Some councils collect fortnightly while others alternate, taking away household waste one week and recyclable items the next.

There have been reports of foxes, rats and flies targeting the accumulated refuse, causing a health hazard.

Today's report argues that fortnightly collections need not create public health problems.

It says that as long as waste food is properly wrapped and householders observe basic "bin hygiene", there will be no difficulties.

But Green Party principal speaker Sian Berry said there must be proper investment in recycling. She said Britain remained the worst land-filler in Europe.

She continued: "Some councils are cutting bin collections in order to improve recycling but they need to invest in full recycling if they do this.

"They should collect compost weekly since it can smell and attract rats.

"Just as importantly, the Government needs to create industries to process and use the paper and plastics we collect and stop the environmental absurdity of exporting our recycled waste to China."

Tory local government spokesman Eric Pickles told the Daily Telegraph the study should not be used to "browbeat" councils into scrapping weekly collections.

"If you wander down any street and knock on any door, people will say that they want their rubbish collected every week.

"It is the primary duty of local authorities to have weekly collections. Refuse collection for some people without children is the single biggest thing they actually get for their council tax."

A spokesman for the Taxpayers Alliance told the paper: "If they are serious about recycling, why don't they give a council tax rebate to those who put out less waste rather than bring in new taxes?"

Doretta Cocks, head of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection, told the Daily Mirror: "It will mean more rats, maggots and smells.

"I fear it will take a public health disaster like a major disease for them to see sense.

"The report was hardly independent."

The report by Wrap, due for release later this month, is expected to focus on climate change and argue that up to one fifth of our carbon emissions are related to the production, processing, transport and storage of food.

The BBC reported that even though half of the waste is inedible, such as teabags, it still means that more than 15p in every £1 spent on food is wasted.

Most of the waste food goes into landfill sites, where it breaks down and produces gases which add to the greenhouse effect.

The report is expected to blame the main causes of food wastage on people buying more than they need, keeping food in fridges which are too warm, and allowing food to go out of date.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said councils would not be forced into alternate weekly collections.

The study into collection rates focused on south east England, but its results could affect any area, the spokeswoman said.

"The highest recycling councils have changed to alternate weekly collections," she said.

"As long as they do it correctly, it really does work, but it's not for everyone.

"We're not telling anybody what they should do."

Councillor Paul Bettison, chairman of the Local Government Association's Environment Board, said councils were on the "frontline" in the fight against climate change and were working hard to cut down on landfill waste.

He said: "Authorities introducing alternate bin collections make the decision based on what will work best in their unique local circumstances.

"Councils bringing in the scheme work with residents to make sure they know about the changes and how to dispose of their waste.

"As long as people use their bins properly, the system is efficient and hygienic.

"Local authorities are using every tool in their arsenal to make sure that council tax is kept down and the environment is protected.

"Alternate week collection is one of those tools. It is proven to increase the amount of recycling achieved and reduce the level of waste sent to landfill."

Lead authors of the collection report, Health Impact Assessment Of Alternate Week Waste Collections Of Biodegradable Waste, said they hoped householders would be reassured.

Mark Broomfield and Jonathan Davies, of consultants Enviros, said: "We hope that householders will be reassured by our findings, and that our work will contribute to the ongoing improvement in recycling of household waste."

A summary of the research by Wrap will be published on March 31.

Wrap chief executive Jennie Price, said: "Our research has found that about half of the food we throw away could have been eaten.

"There is a real opportunity here for us to both save some money and help the environment by making a few small changes.

"The striking point which emerges from the research is that only 10% of those asked realised they were throwing much food away."

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said: "Labour ministers have now given the green light to the abolition of weekly rubbish collections, regardless of public opinion.

"Quite justifiably, people have difficulty with council tax rising to nearly double what it was in 1997, but at the same time their local services are being cut.

"Axing weekly collections will hit families the hardest, who quite naturally produce more waste than single person households, or couples without children.

"Like many others, they will be asking whether it's too much to ask that our streets are kept clean and our bins emptied."

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