The government hopes councils will save money if people throw less away
There are no plans for an England-wide "bin tax" - and even if it were to happen it would not be for several years, Gordon Brown has said.
The prime minister said councils were welcome to submit proposals to charge or reward people according to the amount of rubbish they threw away.
But only "a very small number" of pilots were being backed.
"We've got no commitment to go any further - not at all... and it couldn't happen for years," he told GMTV.
The UK must reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill by nearly two-thirds by 2020 to meet EU targets.
Last May ministers said all English councils would be able to implement taxation schemes, but when the Climate Change Bill was published in November, these were restricted to five pilot authorities.
The Commons local government committee has since warned this will make it harder to hit the Europe-wide targets.
'Can do better'
The issue of rubbish charging was raised again on Wednesday after the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded to criticism from the committee of MPs.
In their joint response the departments denied a "retreat" over the issue and said it would be "up to local authorities" to decide their own plans.
They also disagreed with the MPs' point that the policy now looked "half-hearted", adding that the government "would rightly have been criticised" had it failed to consult.
Asked what the position was, Mr Brown said: "Local authorities want to do more to get rid of rubbish and waste, and they want to give more incentives to people if they're actually prepared to do something about it.
"So we've said that we'll have a very small number of pilot projects, but that's all we're committed to."
He said that if councils came forward with ideas, "we may do them, but if they don't, we won't do them".
"It's really the initiative of local authorities," the prime minister added.
He admitted that when it came to the disposal of rubbish, "everybody who looks at what's happening with packaging and all the waste we create knows we can do better there".
But he stressed: "This is not a national scheme. This is one or two local authorities who want to do something.
"They come forward, we have to approve it, and it's got to be in the interest of the people in the country.
"After the trial we'll see what happens but we've got no commitment to go any further - not at all. And it couldn't happen for years."
However, Paul Bettison, who chairs the environment board of the Local Government Association, said the government's "lack of clarity" on the matter in recent weeks had been "unhelpful".
"The final decision should be made by local councils in response to local need and in consultation with local people.
"Any council that looks to introduce these measures will do so to promote recycling and reward local people who do their bit for the environment. No resident need lose out, provided they are prepared to recycle."