Fyson on: The integrated planning needed for waste collection toensure that levels of recycling increase

The collection of household rubbish is more of a planning issue than might be supposed. The drive to recycle is not only a response to resource conservation imperatives but to pressure on landfill sites as well.

Latest waste separation and collection systems also make unforeseen demands on householders to store their rubbish and then offer it conveniently for collection. This takes up space and the problem is exacerbated by the trend towards fortnightly instead of weekly collections.

Reports that show no increase in vermin and smells as a result of decomposing rubbish are contradicted by widespread anecdotal evidence. One newspaper suggests that it can relate the recent local government election results to the candidates' stance on less frequent waste collections.

The claim that fortnightly collections lead to more recycling is dubious. The 144 councils that have adopted a fortnightly regime so far do have a better record on recycling, making positive use of about 30 per cent of what they collect compared with 23 per cent among councils not using the system. But higher recycling levels can be achieved with collections every week in combination with better facilities and publicity, as experience elsewhere in Europe shows.

Over-zealous green groups accept too readily that fortnightly collections directly improve recycling performance. In practice, they engender hostile reactions as well as positive awareness.

The rising cost of landfill is driving local authorities towards better recycling rates. Cheaper collection contracts operating on a fortnightly cycle are bound to help financially, but local authorities must take account of the physical circumstances of communities.

Extensive suburban housing with front and back gardens and side access may have space for multiple large wheelie bins, but high flats and established urban areas frequently cannot.

Visual intrusion, obstruction of pavements and vulnerability to vandalism directly impact on the quality of the public realm. Householders must also find extra storage space and suffer bad odours, especially in hot weather. Wrapping waste up, however conscientiously, is rarely totally effective. When people are away, missed collections worsen the problems both of storage and container retrieval.

Even at relatively high densities space can be provided for waste in new developments, although the establishment of national standards would help. But integrating modern waste handling systems into established urban neighbourhoods needs the development of a whole new planning specialism.

- Anthony Fyson is a freelance writer on planning issues.

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