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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
What about the rubbish?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Everyone creates it, but few like it.

Rubbish can be unhygienic, smelly and generally unpleasant, but many parts of the UK are having to live with it for longer.

Rubbish bins
Ministers want more household rubbish to be recycled

About 140 councils in England now run an alternate weekly collection (AWC) system, where ordinary household waste is taken once a fortnight, rather than once a week.

Recyclable material, such as glass or paper, is removed on other weeks.

There is anecdotal evidence of rats and foxes and, in particular, maggots enjoying a feast of rotting food left in bins for longer.

Whitehall advice to councils, who have to cut their waste levels or face fines, is not to introduce the idea of fortnightly collections too near polling day.

Its Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) says: "The timing of local elections may affect your thinking on when best to introduce the concept to members and to the public, and the proposed rollout schedule for the AWC."

'Roll out'

It adds: "It is advisable to roll out the scheme in autumn, winter or early spring such that by the time warmer weather arrives, residents are used to the scheme and initial resistance has faded."

So, the best time to bring up the subject of AWC would be when there is no election pending and when the weather is not too warm - not now, in other words.

Britain is the dustbin of Europe with more rubbish being thrown into landfill than any other country on the continen
Sandy Bruce-Lockhart
Local Government Association

But candidates in some areas are making it an issue.

Some Liberal Democrat councillors are running on a policy of bringing back weekly household bin collections during the hottest - and smelliest - part of the summer.

One said: "We went out on the doorstep to ask people how they are coping with it and we were surprised by the result. No one said they wanted the new system.

"There were stories about all sorts of things, such as maggots crawling out of bins, through an air vent and into one woman's kitchen. It's horrible for people.

"The fact is we can still recycle without having to collect recyclables and ordinary rubbish alternately."


Another said: "We are responding to customers. We have had some people complaining about the green bin system, for stuff like food, garden waste and cardboard, and that they would like more summer collections.

If people don't recycle there will be a cost which will have to be met
Elaine Sherrington
Bolton Council

"It's not a big issue in the sense that people are clamouring for a weekly service, but we have a responsibility to listen."

At a national level, the Tories say councils should be left to decide policy.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said: "Conservative councils don't want to cut services but with another hot summer on the way, millions of households across the country face the prospect of bags of household waste building up on doorsteps, in bins that smell or in their kitchens.

"I believe people genuinely want to improve recycling and go green... forcing rubbish cuts is not the answer. It can end up being bad for the local environment and bad for public health."

The government has told councils to cut the amount of biodegradable waste - like paper and food - they transport to landfill sites.

If Whitehall does not reach its own European targets by 2010, it will face a fine, which it is promising to pass on to local authorities.

'Political gain'

The theory is that AWC is that fortnightly bin-emptying, combined with more recycyling, will ease the pressure on landfill sites.

But the Whitehall advice is not to mention the scheme around election time: "As an AWC is such a high-profile change in service provision, a party in opposition can use the change for political gain.

"This can cause unnecessary public opposition either in advance of, or following the introduction of, an AWC scheme.

"There is evidence that such activity has resulted in an AWC not being introduced. There are also examples of AWC schemes being withdrawn as a result of commitment to party manifestos on election.

"This risk should be identified at the outset and action taken to address it if necessary as soon as possible."

To counter this "unnecessary public opposition", the introduction of AWCs is usually accompanied by an education programme on its environmental benefits.

'Horror stories'

This usually advises that "good housekeeping" - such as shutting bin lids and keeping rubbish out of direct sunlight - removes most smells and lowers the risk of maggot infestation.

Doretta Cocks, founder of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection, says people are being "brainwashed".

She wants more council candidates to run on a ticket of ending fortnightly bin removals.

Mrs Cocks said: "People are having to drive their cars to the dump more, which I don't think is environmentally friendly.

"I've also heard horror stories about what happens. One man had to use a blow torch to get the maggots off his driveway.

"People understand how important an issue this is. They want to recycle stuff, of course, but this is the wrong way to bring it about - it's much more stick than carrot.

"People are being manipulated. They are being brainwashed."

The Daily Mail has also launched a campaign - "The Great Dustbin Revolt" - calling for people living in areas with AWC to vote against parties backing it in next week's local elections.

'Done properly'

A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said of AWC: "It isn't a problem in most of the areas that have got it."

She added that reported complaints, such as maggot infestations, were very unusual "as long as it [putting waste in bins and keeping it covered] is done properly."

Among the local authorities which have reverted from fortnightly to weekly collections are Labour-controlled ones.

As one Labour member said: "We responded to the people... and brought back the weekly grey bin service, because we see it as a right to residents. But, with all rights comes responsibilities.

"If people don't recycle there will be a cost which will have to be met, and we will have to look at alternative ways of enforcing this."

Although all the main parties are keen to see an increase in recycling, it is up to councils themselves to decide whether or not to move to the AWC system.

Out on the doorstep, rubbish collection is clearly a concern. Whether it affects council elections remains to be seen.


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