Although they can be unpopular with residents, green waste charges are a consistent revenue driver for the local authorities that enforce them. In recent years however, debate on the prospect of scrapping these charges has ramped up, and at the beginning of 2021 Boris Johnson unveiled plans to create a ‘National Bin Service’ that would result in a standardised bin collection across the UK – including free garden waste collection for everybody, regardless of whether they have a garden or not.
As part of this, The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has submitted designs for significant changes to waste services, which would mean councils across England having to be more consistent and clearer on the materials they collect to reduce public confusion, as well as offering free fortnightly garden waste collections and separate weekly food waste collections.
The Government now aims to commence plans from 2023, with the hope that the new bin collections will improve recycling and enable England to reach their target of eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050.
For councils, this will involve some significant restricting and the next move is of vital importance and will come to define how this next period impacts budget and infrastructure.
On paper, The National Bin Service could be a popular decision. The subject of bin collections is contentious amongst the public, and anything that would simplify waste disposal or reduce resident cost is likely to be met with open arms.
However, the discourse around this subject isn’t straight-forward for councils, which are facing the prospect of additional expenditure, in an already-strained money situation. In fact, DEFRA has admitted that £2,514 million could be lost from councils if local authorities were to begin collecting garden waste for free. Green waste charges, for councils, enable them to increase income – this change would squeeze budgets for councils even further, whilst effectively asking them to do more.
There are also costs in terms of resources. An increase in the size of depots will be required to sustain the new plans, as will additional vehicles, which will be a costly demand. Staff shortages have also been a prevalent concern for councils across the country, making it difficult to collect green wastage; this has only increased with illness and isolation related to the pandemic.
With the plans looking to go ahead, some form of additional financial strain is to be inevitable. Nonetheless, councils still need to find ways to ease the impact, taking measures to prepare by reorganising their digital infrastructure.
The changes to collections brought in by this transition will not only bring about questions for councils, but also with residents, who are likely to ask what the waste management changes will mean for them. Councils must be ready for an influx of confused resident requests, meaning customer contact and communication will likely increase.
There are ways to mitigate this however, through consistent and well-timed communications. Although we cannot force everyone to go online to submit requests, the likes of self-service options, forms and a good contact management system can ease the burden of inbound phone calls.
An email communications campaign to your news subscriber base outlining any changes that are happening, will also help to answer some of these questions before they are even asked. This will also reduce the need for the customer to seek this information themselves, decreasing complaints about lack of information.
These tools enable the resident to find out quickly if they will be charged for garden waste and how it will be collected in the future, without the need to pick up the phone. It is this promotion of citizen autonomy that builds trust and provides time efficiencies.
Additionally, in order to keep the residents at the heart of all decisions, the introduction of a consultation system could be put in place by councils. This would encourage community engagement and gather vital data on public sentiment regarding waste services in their area, which could support the making of more informed decisions around any changes.
It is important, throughout the discussion, that the benefit for customers is kept in mind. Collectively, householders are expected to save over £100 million per year in green waste charges. The plans also work towards boosting the rating of recycling and in turn, reducing rubbish to landfill – with more frequent recycling collections being something residents have expressed a desire for.
With 2023 fast approaching, councils now need to start planning for the changes regardless of if they move forward or not and take the next steps to put them in the best possible situation.