UK gardeners 'punished by quiet green tax' for kerbside collections

BBC News 1 month ago

A "quiet green tax" is deterring gardeners from recycling their waste, it has been claimed.

Analysis shows some UK councils charge up to £100 a year for a kerbside collection, despite one in four councils providing a free service.

Critics say the service should be free to residents to reduce the amount of clippings being sent to landfill.

Councils say the service is not statutory and home composting is a cheaper alternative.

The BBC's Shared Data Unit looked at the annual subscription charges levied by local councils for regular kerbside garden waste collections.

More than 140 local authorities provide a free collection, but charges for other councils range from £22 to £96.

The average annual charge is around £31, with higher costs levied in London and the South East.

Why do we recycle garden waste?

Garden waste collection bags in Sussex
Getty Images
  • Garden waste collected by local authorities is turned into compost
  • If it is sent to landfill, it breaks down without oxygen, which produces methane gas
  • Methane is around 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide produced from composting

Anthony O'Sullivan, the managing director of Gardeners Club, said the charge was a "quiet green garden tax which seems to go against every other positive environmental initiative the UK is trying to promote".

"So whilst the rest of the world is encouraging us all to reduce our carbon footprints and generally live a better environmental way of life, why are UK councils doing the opposite?" he added.

Who has to pay?

Lynn Wright in her garden next to a pot of flowers
Lynn Wright

Lynn Wright said the service provided by Dorset Council was expensive, but saved her a trip to the recycling centre.

She said: "We have a garden waste collection service fortnightly - £50.50 a year, which I think is rather high, but does save costs of travelling to our tip.

"The local tip is a problem for me as it involves climbing steep stairs to offload the waste."

Elsewhere, Sue Backhouse, a landscape gardener from Eastbourne in East Sussex, pays around £52 a year for a garden waste collection.

She said the charges had led to an increase in the dumping of garden waste in public areas, while many residents had abandoned their green bin altogether.

"The anger towards the garden bin charge is not just that people feel it should be covered by their council tax, but that councils turn the composted garden waste into bags of soil enrichers, which they sell to the public and use for free on council projects," she said.

"Surely this financial advantage and income should be taken into account when calculating garden bin collection costs?"

Where is it free?

Marie and Tony Newton stood in their garden with lots of greenery surrounding them
Tony Newton, Four Seasons Garden

Tony and Marie Newton, who have an award-winning garden called Four Seasons, live in Walsall where the service is free of charge.

The couple say if charges were introduced, they think it is "most unlikely that enthusiastic gardeners would be off put from their hobby".

"Overall, we think that this policy has great benefits for the Walsall borough as well as for very many householders," they added.

Free for all?

The government says free regular collections are the best way to improve rates of garden waste recycling.

It has asked for opinions on the possibility of all councils in England providing the service free of charge from 2023.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) warned if free collections became mandatory, the government would have to foot the bill.

"Ultimately, garden waste collection has to be paid for by someone," said Councillor David Renard, the LGA's environment spokesman.

"It's only fair that those households which have gardens and generate the waste pay for the service. This is why some councils charge for this as it's not a universal service."

'Value for money'

Gardeners served by Harlow Council in Essex face the highest charges at £96 a year followed by Adur and Worthing Councils in West Sussex at £85 and the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire at £78.

Councillor Danny Purton, the portfolio holder for environment at Harlow Council, said residents were able to book a collection in advance from "as little as 95p per bag", or sign up to the year-round wheelie bin service.

He said: "Although the wheelie bin service is more expensive, it has proven to be popular.

"We expect the cost of the service to reduce as more people use the service."

Across the UK

In Northern Ireland, none of the 11 local authorities charge for the service.

In Wales, more than half do not ask residents to foot the bill, and in Scotland, more than three-quarters do not charge.

Eleven local authorities in the UK do not provide regular collections of garden waste.

More about this story

The Shared Data Unit makes data journalism available to news organisations across the media industry, as part of a partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association. This piece of content was produced by a local newspaper journalist working alongside BBC staff.

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