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Do you pay to have green waste collected?

Garden green waste

My green waste bag is collected for free each and every week. I thought that was the norm, but it appears it’s a different story for many in the UK. Some people are now paying extra to have their green waste taken away.

According our latest research, around a quarter of people have to pay an extra charge on top of their council tax to get their green waste taken away.

Our figures are broadly in line with the latest figures from Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Programme) from 2011/12, where 31% of households in England and 27% in Wales paid to have garden waste collected, compared with no charges in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The services offered by councils differ around the country: some put out bags, others bins; some pay an annual fee ranging from £15 to £90, others pay per collection. Some councils sell the composted green waste back to residents for use as a mulch or soil improver.

While most people appear to be happy with their collection service, some say that it’s not regular enough or that it doesn’t collect all of their waste. Of those who have to pay, some are not happy with the extra charge – several people told us that they think it should be included in their council tax bill.

Only about half of Which? members who have to pay for the service choose to do so. The rest of them compost the green waste at home or take it to a local recycling centre. A handful even admit that they put green waste in their ordinary rubbish bin!

Paying extra to get rid of gardening waste

Our members’ views are echoed by my colleagues in the Which? Gardening office. Our editor, Ceri Thomas, and our senior researcher, Adelaide Gray, both live in the same borough in Buckinghamshire and are charged £28 a year to have their green waste taken away.

Ceri has chosen not pay the charge, preferring to compost at home. She then takes the excess to her local recycling centre. On the other hand, Adelaide has opted to pay for the service. Despite having two compost heaps, she generates more green waste than she can handle and would rather it was taken away. She’s also reluctant to put grass clippings that have been treated with a weed and feed into her compost bins. And rightly so, they contain weedkillers and should not be put in the compost bin for at least six months.

Clearly many councils are having to make tough decisions about which services they can run. And arguably it’s greener to compost at home than to send a fleet of vehicles to collect green waste. But not everyone has space for a bin or heap, and often the garden generates too much green waste anyway. So is charging to take it away really the answer?

Comments

I do not have to pay extra for the collection of green waste. Most of mine is home composted so the bin is hardly ever full. I would thoroughly object to paying extra for this service as the Council is always promoting recycling and for which we already pay in the Council Tax.

Alistair says:
31 August 2013

I live in Somerset and now play £45 a year for garden recycling. Next year I intend to follow the majority of my neighbors and cancel as the cost is excessive.

Our council (Chiltern District) introduced a new system for recycling a couple of months ago, and I think it’s fantastic! They never used to collect garden waste before but now they offer a fortnightly service for £35 a year (£28 for early payment). I have opted to pay and so I now have a green wheelie bin instead of my tumbler composter. At this time of year, I am generating too much garden waste to fit in the bin so I’m just keeping it for the next collection as eventually there will be weeks when I have very little. I’m quite happy to pay and I don’t want the cost included in my council tax as I don’t want that to go up – and it’s good to be able to opt out if I need to. The council have also introduced other collections for free that we’ve never had before: food waste (weekly) and plastics (hooray!), batteries, and textiles (fortnightly). These are in addition to the existing collections for paper and general rubbish.

For twelve years we have had our green waste collected free of charge, this year however, Waveney District Council now charge £45 a year to collect green waste. This is the thin end of the wedge, next we will will be charged for our other two bins. I wouldn’t mind so much but we only have fortnightly collections anyway. Yet again we have to pay for a poor service. I for one will not pay.

Peter Sly says:
17 April 2022

I am now having to pay for green bins to be collected and emptied.Why has this service been removed from what we pay in the council tax? I am disabled and have no transport.The extra charge is criminal…

Peter — I assume, in the context of this Conversation, that you are referring to the bins provided for garden waste. There is no standardisation of colour but I doubt your comment refers to the bins provided for recyclable material for which the collection and disposal cost is supposed to be charged within the council tax but free at the point of provision.

I believe the reason for charging is that local authorities are no longer required as a statutory duty to collect and dispose of ‘green’ waste. They provide this service at a standard charge to the householders who require it. Many households do not use the service because they do not generate any significant quantity of green waste, do not have a garden, prefer to dispose of any waste themselves at a local tip, use it to make their own compost, or employ a contractor to manage their garden and remove the arisings. It would not be fair if the costs of this selective service was charged to all council tax payers.

This change has been in place for many years but perhaps your local authority has only caught up recently. The green waste is sold to commercial operators for conversion to compost and it could be that the income from that was enough to cover the operating costs. I thought councils did have the power to reduce or remit the charge in respect of householder’s with special needs [e.g. low incomes or incapacity] but it cannot be assumed that all disabled people are unable to afford the green waste bin charge. If you were able to use your own transport there would be a cost involved in taking garden waste to a municipal tip. I suggest you enquire of your local council whether you are eligible for any relief from the collection charge.

What I find unacceptable is that local authorities are using the garden waste collection charge as a money-making opportunity rather than merely covering the costs of the operation taking one year with another. The number of households using the service has increased to a very high level over the years, partly because of the lack of alternative facilities, and the volumes collected and sold on to the compost manufacturers have increased proportionately as the commercial demand for garden compost has risen in parallel. These economies of scale have not been reflected in the annual charges. The collection rounds are now much more efficient with more bins per mile requiring servicing so the unit cost per household should have reduced considerably. Collections in rural areas will be more costly than in dense urban areas but nevertheless there should have been price stability at worst. Yet the charge to householders has been routinely raised by whatever percentage amount the authority applies to its general service levels or by whatever they deem will meet with little or no resistance; it is not exactly an election issue. Where we live, the collection charges have risen from £48.30 in 2021 to £54.60 in 2022 [both at the direct debit discounted rate] — a 13% increase. It is virtually impossible to get a breakdown of the costs of this operation and the justification [if any] for such an increase in charges.

My green bin is emptied free of charge every two weeks, except for part of the winter. I only use it to dispose of waste that I cannot compost, so it does not get much use. Hedge clippings are chopped up with the rotary mower and put on the heap with grass, moss, weeds, and other green waste. That produces several barrow loads of good compost each year to improve the soil.

I see councils are likely to abolish charges for disposing of diy waste at their recycling sites, to try to tackle fly tipping.

Looking back through this Conversation, it does seem that the green waste collection charges vary wildly cross the country. In June 2013, Victoria in Sheffield was paying £60.00 for a fortnightly service between May and November. The service now operates between March and November at about the same total charge. That is how I would expect the charge to have altered over the years with the benefits of the economies of scale.

I compost what I can but not the grass cuttings or hard wood. Since moving the compost bin to a better position where it gets more sunshine the turnover is faster.

I have been given a large bag of mineralised straw mulch which I have not yet opened. I have no experience of this product. Does anyone have any views on its value? Does it look alright? And how does it compare with normal compost as a soil improver?

This looks like a mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth rather than a soil improver. It is said to last a couple if years so may take some time to rot down. It also seems very expensive.

Grass cuttings – unless treated with weedkiller – work well on the compost heap if mixed with other material. If you can get straw bales they will work well but need to be wetted well in my experience.

Thanks, Malcolm. I think I’ll open the straw mulch and see what it looks like. I don’t really need a weed suppressant, nor something that will take two years or more to break down. Putting it in the compost bin mixed with the grass cuttings won’t do much good either perhaps. I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, of course, but although the monthly RHS magazine contains adverts for this material I have never seen any recommendations for its use.

Can you use the mineralised straw mulch as a weed suppressant, John? It might save work with the hoe and if it only breaks down slowly, that could be a benefit.

I could, Malcolm.

One bag won’t go far so if it looks alright I might use it on one of the beds. We don’t have a serious weed problem really. Compared with our previous gardens, our present one is quite modest and easy to manage so there’s not much room for weeds between all the flowers and plants.

Over the past two years we’ve replaced most of the decorative chip bark in our garden with “Strulch” mineralised straw mulch. This is primarily because our latest puppy liked to chew the larger lumps of chip bark and was in danger of choking or intestinal blockage. She leaves the Strulch alone. BTW cocoa shell mulch is poisonous to dogs, as are all chocolate products.

As a weed suppressant, Strulch works equally well and is quite pleasant to look at after wetting down, although it does tend to cling to shoes and boots and bits end up on the kitchen floor unless scraped off on the doormats.

As to cost, it does not go very far, an open bag covering about twice the area of a closed bag. However, you can buy a giant pallet load much more conveniently and cheaply than transporting bags from a garden centre, provided you have curbside access, somewhere dry to store it until next season, or can share a load with neighbours. It is also cheaper than vets bills or a new puppy. These days, the cost of collecting a few bags is probably as much again as the value of the Strulch you could fit in a small hatchback.

As to using it as a soil improver, it is designed to rot down slowly, so bails of straw or used animal bedding would be a better alternative.