PROPOSALS to charge households for rubbish through prepaid refuse sacks or hi-tech wheelie bins could prove unworkable and exacerbate fly-tipping, it was claimed yesterday.
Under proposals from council leaders, residents’ bills could rise if they have to buy more refuse sacks, throw a lot of rubbish in wheelie bins fitted with microchips able to weigh waste or be charged according to the size of wheelie bins they use.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said its proposals were designed to improve recycling and cut the amount of rubbish sent to landfill to avoid £3bn of potential fines.
The LGA insisted its plans would not be a stealth tax to raise extra cash for town halls, saying some households would pay more but others would see council tax cut, and it said a survey showed strong support for such a system.
Its proposals have been submitted to the Government after a consultation on similar proposals in May.
Those plans suggested a £50 allowance per household under a wheelie bin-weighing system of 10p a kilogram – a home producing £20 of rubbish would get a £30 rebate, one throwing out £80 of refuse would pay £30.
But Berwick MP Alan Beith said: “It may more useful to reward people for recycling their rubbish, reusing material and composting than to impose additional charges.
“I would also be very concerned about the possibility of more fly-tipping.”
Northumberland County Council said it did not support the Government’s “over complex and unworkable” proposals because well-managed more simple and equitable alternative weekly collections could drive recycling and cut waste.
“We would be concerned that this could lead to an increase in fly tipping in Northumberland, which would clearly be undesirable both in terms of environmental damage but also increased clean up costs,” a spokesman said.
Blyth Valley council leader Dave Stephens warned that some families needed more than one bin and that a “proper” disposal system was needed because some plastics could not be recycled. Supermarkets should cut packaging and ministers consider taxing plastic bags, Mr Stephens said. He also expressed concern about more layers of administration and fly-tipping, saying closure of a tip in Blyth several years ago sparked a £100,000 rise in the clean-up bill.
The Taxpayers Alliance said: “Parking charges have become a stealth tax enabling councils to raise extra revenue, and there is every danger that bin charges will go the same way.” It said people might accept variable charging as an issue in fairness, but warned that it would only be justified by council tax cuts of £20 a month – for which there was no such guarantee from the Government.
The LGA said evidence from Europe showed schemes could boost recycling and cut waste, but did not increase fly-tipping in the long-term, and stressed the need for a comprehensive waste system, taking in kerbside recycling and composting.
A spokesman said residents must have a say and any system should recognise that some people were on benefits and families inevitably produced more waste.
A survey found 38% of people strongly supported a system where they paid less council tax and charged directly for their rubbish. The poll of 1,028 adults found another 26% “tend to support” the plans to lower charges if residents recycle more.
A spokesman added that it was too early to set out potential bills for residents with the LGA talking about the principles of such schemes – with new legislation needed for them to brought in by around 2009-10.
The three options
Households buy different sized pre-paid sacks or tags to go on ordinary bin bags from their council or local shops for general household waste.
This option could be better for urban areas where space prevents households using wheelie bins, but supporters say it provides a clear incentive to cut rubbish, with systems for garden waste already operating successfully in England.
A sack-based system was introduced in the Dutch city of Maastricht in 2000, with residents able to buy 25 and 50 litre sacks priced at 0.69 euros (46p) and 1.03 euros (70p) that are collected weekly and fortnightly.
The amount of household waste has since fallen dramatically with the city now seeing the financial benefits.
Wheelie bins are fitted with microchips so the bins can be weighed, much like the system used for trade waste.
Households are sent a bill, which could be quarterly or annually, for the amount of non-recyclable waste thrown out.
Such a system was introduced in the authority of Sittard in Holland, where just a quarter of homes are flats, in 2002. Houses are given a two-compartment bin for garden and residual waste, that is collected weekly.
The amount of general waste has fallen by 41%, while the authority estimates the scheme has produced savings of 1.1m euros (£747,3400) per year.
Households choose from a range of wheelie bin sizes according to the amount of waste they think they will generate and are charged accordingly.
Residents can change bin size after a set period of time – although doing this too frequently would result in unreasonable costs.
The Dutch area of Haarlemermeer operates a fortnightly collection system, where residents can purchase bins ranging from 80 litres, for 142 euros (£96) to 240 litres at 215 (£146).
Residents are fined for putting out extra waste, but recycling has risen and saved the council money, and it is cheaper than incineration.
Other options include charging by frequency of collection or combinations of weight, volume and frequency.
Pilot scheme was a success – at a cost
ONE North council has already piloted a microchip system.
Alnwick Council’s Chip and Bin system was piloted two years ago.
About 4,000 homes were included in the scheme, which worked by downloading data stored in the electronic unit placed in each bin, to the software system in the wagon when it lifts and weighs the bin.
It then determined the percentages of waste being recycled or discarded.
Council officers could pin down figures to individual households and assess which were making good use of their recycling bin – and which weren’t. Richard Thompson, head of environmental services at Alnwick Council, said: “We piloted this with financial help from Defra. We ran it in a few areas of the town for six months to see how much recycling increased. There was a league table for the council and the area with the most recycling won money for community projects.
“Overall it was successful. We saw an increase of about 2% in recycling across the district, but in some areas the increase was up to 8%. We were fairly pleased with the results, but unfortunately the cost of putting chips into every bin was prohibitive so we dropped the scheme.”
Council’s worry about huge fines
NEW moves to charge residents for their waste are being partially driven by the risk of massive fines for councils who fail to slash the amount of rubbish sent to landfill.
North-East taxpayers could foot the bill for annual fines of up to £83m a year, although councils are working to meet Government targets to cut the amount of biodegradable waste dumped in landfill – as required under European Union rules to reduce methane gas production linked to climate change.
The 12 North-East authorities responsible for waste disposal must reduce their total sent to landfill from 879,666 tonnes in 2007-08 to 692,340 tonnes by 2010 and to 322,680 tonnes a decade later – or be fined £150 per excess tonne.
Annual fines could reach £28m within three years and £83.5m by 2020 if no progress is made, although councils say work is under way to meet targets.
Newcastle Council says its cumulative fine could reach £47.5m by 2020, but it is investigating potential solutions.
Families will be losers in the rubbish battle
FEARS that families could lose out in a shake-up of waste charges have been raised by Berwick Tory Parliamentary candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
The mother-of-two is concerned families could foot the bill if proposals to directly charge households for the amount of rubbish they throw out get the go-ahead from ministers because families tend to produce more material.
The Local Government Association has stressed that families should be recognised in any system and that it would not be a stealth tax with some households seeing lower bills but others higher charges.
Campaigners fear overall taxes could end up rising.
Mrs Trevelyan said: “They have talked about exemptions for nappies and babies. But the amount of usage of material in a house with children is exponentially greater than that of a retired lady.
She added: “There are better ways to do it than consistently dumping the bill on the end consumer – mainly reducing the packaging coming out of shops in the first place.”
Fly-tippers nailed – but plenty are left to carry on with a filthy habit
FEARS were raised yesterday that the new waste measures may result in more people fly-tipping their rubbish rather than pay for it.
In the past six months the North-East has been blighted by the crime, which has seen a high-profile campaign launched by the Environment Agency, which has been crushing the cars of fly-tippers.
Here are just some of the fly-tipping reports of 2007:
August: Teacher Philip Raine, of The Meadows in West Rainton, County Durham, was fined £400 after admitting illegally disposing of household waste at Marks Lane, West Rainton.
July: The Government announces an extra £155,000 for the Environment Agency to employ two new enforcement officers.
June: Councillors and property developers voiced concerns that illegal dumping at Grange Wood, Widdrington, Northumberland, was threatening red squirrels.
June: Matthew Lynn Oliver, 20, of Alnwick, Northumberland, was fined £200 and ordered to forfeit his van, after admitting two waste offences.
June: Postman Andrew Moore, of West Avenue, Guide Post, was fined for fly-tipping rubbish that contained his own work hats and letters with his address on.
June: The Environment Agency crushed a truck owned by fly-tipper George Rogerson, of Alexandra Road, Ashington, who was paid £30 to dump some carpets and a fridge-freezer.
May: David Curtis, 28, of Widdrington, near Morpeth, is ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £475 for leaving a bag of rubbish and some cardboard packaging next to farmland near Ashington.
May: The busy Mandela Way, near the MetroCentre in Gateshead, was closed for two hours after a fly-tipper dumped a pile of rubbish across the carriageway.
May: Fly-tippers dumped three tonnes of waste across a road off the A696 between Ponteland and Belsay. It included steel girders, bricks, an old bath and hand basin.
April: Vandals dump rubbish in Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at St Nicholas Park, Gosforth, Newcastle.