Recycling changes: your questions answered

21 Sep 2023
New weekly food waste graphic

Hertsmere councillors have approved our ambitious plans to radically improve recycling across the borough.

Hertsmere councillors have approved our ambitious plans to radically improve recycling across the borough.

Weekly household food-waste collections, in a separate bin, will begin in April 2025.

This will make it much easier and cleaner for residents to recycle food and reduce the huge amounts which go to landfill.

To fund the new service, the free collection of garden waste will end - replaced with an optional £50 charge. 

You’ve rightly asked us many questions about how the new system will work, and why it’s needed. Here are some answers.

“What’s wrong with our recycling at the moment?”

Currently in Hertsmere, we send a staggering 56% of our rubbish to landfill or incineration. That’s around 20% more than our neighbours in Three Rivers and St Albans.

The main reason is we put huge amounts of food - 3,000 tons a year - into the black bin. In fact, 28% of all the waste in our black bins in Hertsmere is food. 

And when food goes into the black bin, it can’t be recycled. So it ends up at landfill or incineration, where it turns into greenhouse gases. Hertsmere’s black-bin food waste generates around 7,300 tons of methane and CO2 every year - all of which can be avoided.

“How does the new system fix that?”

At the moment, food waste goes in the green bin. But it has to compete for space with garden waste - and crucially, is only collected every two weeks.

This means you end up with rotting, smelly food lingering in your green bin for up to a fortnight. 

Altogether, this is so off-putting that, too often, we don’t do it - and put food in the black bin instead.

To change this, we’ll now make it much easier, simpler, and cleaner for you to recycle food - by introducing a weekly food-waste collection, in a separate bin.

“How will that work?” 

All households will be given a receptacle  known as an ‘external caddy’. It’s similar to your kitchen food-waste caddy, but goes outside, with your existing bins. It will be approximately 27 litres in volume, and you can still put biodegradable liners in it.

The caddy will be collected every week.

There is no extra charge to any household for this new service, nor an addition to council tax.

“I already make an effort to recycle food, and put all my waste in the green bin. What’s wrong with that?” 

Not enough people do it. The present system just doesn’t work.

Also, food which goes in the green bin isn’t actually recycled. It’s composted. 

But when it’s collected separately, food goes to an anaerobic digester and is converted to clean energy biofuels. In terms of carbon reduction, that’s much more useful than composting.

Another issue is that, at the moment, lots of food also ends up in the brown recycling bin. When that happens, the contamination prevents the contents from being recycled. 

“I’m still not convinced it’ll work”

All successful recycling councils collect food separately. It’s the factor which makes the biggest single difference. Three Rivers and St Albans are ranked 1 and 3 in the UK for recycling. Hertsmere is 137.

These new arrangements aren’t experimental. Most councils use them now, and extensive experience has shown they work. In fact, the government has indicated it will soon make weekly food-waste collection mandatory.

“I already pay a fortune in council tax. Why should I now pay extra to have my garden waste collected, when it’s always been done for free?” *

The charge is optional, and we believe it’s the fairest feasible way of funding the new food-waste service, which will require £870,000 to set up, followed by running costs. Chiefly, we need to acquire a new fleet of lorries, plus other infrastructure, and recruit a new team of operatives.

There is no surplus cash available to pay for this. Even as it stands, the council is struggling to make ends meet. Hertsmere only receives 10% - or £200 a year - of your council tax. The rest goes to the police and county council.

“But why a garden charge?”

The main factor is that 6,000 households in Hertsmere don't have gardens. For decades they've had to subsidise garden-waste collection for those who do. We think this is unfair. 

And all the other ways of funding the new food service would make that unfairness worse. We could cut other services, or raise council tax just for this purpose. But that would affect all residents. 

Everyone eats, so we don’t think it’s right to make you pay for food-waste collection.

Instead, the most equitable approach is to charge via garden waste, because it only applies to people who choose to use that service.

The fee is £50 a year, reduced to £35 for those on council tax support. This will be introduced in April 2024.

The charge is not compulsory. If you prefer not to pay, there'll be help with home-composting, or you can take garden waste to a recycling centre for free. Another option is to halve the cost by sharing with a neighbour.

Also, no one who doesn’t have a garden will be paying the charge at all.

“I don’t get the fairness argument. Taxes get spent on plenty of things that many people don’t use - like schools and the NHS”. 

But those are statutory services. And collecting garden waste is not a statutory service for councils. Hertsmere has no duty to do it for free, and very few other local authorities still do.

Many council services have always involved charges: using a leisure centre, parking, or making a planning application. At a national level, you have to pay for eye tests and dental work even though you’ve already paid National Insurance.

Ultimately, all these things involve making difficult decisions about where to draw the line in the fairest way.

In an ideal world, this council would do everything for free. But the reality is that free garden waste collection is no longer feasible in Hertsmere, if we’re serious about playing our proper part in tackling climate change.

“£50 still sounds a lot”

It's less than the Hertfordshire average. Three Rivers charge £60. Over the border in Greater London, Barnet charges £70 and Enfield £80.

“Surely this will make people just put their garden waste in the black bin?”

Most other councils charge for garden waste, including all our neighbours, and they don't have this problem. In other words, there's no evidence the charge leads to garden cuttings going in the black bin.

Even if it does, garden waste causes much less harm in landfill than food - because food turns into methane.

“If I don’t want to pay for garden waste collection, what will happen to my green bin?”

The council will remove it.

“If I do sign up, will the garden waste be collected all year round?”

There will be 25 collections a year, with one ‘down’ week around Christmas.

“Can I have two green bins collected?” 

Yes. The second one will have a £60 charge.

“Hang on a minute. Didn’t you say the charge begins in April 2024, but the food-waste collection doesn’t begin till April 2025? So I have to pay for a year before I get the new service?”

Yes. We have to start generating the funds to pay for the new lorries and crew. The alternative is to cut other core services.

“I also heard something about second black bins”

3,000 Hertsmere homes have a second black bin, which encourages huge quantities of extra landfill. Some years ago the council introduced a policy to end second black bins, by no longer collecting them, but it's never been enforced. Now it will. 

There is an exemption on medical grounds for people whose conditions require large volumes of sanitary towels. 

“I live in a flat. Will I now get separate food waste collection?”

Not yet, but this new system paves the way by creating a funding model and infrastructure, and providing the fleet of trucks. Any surplus funds from the garden charge can help fund flat-collection and other further improvements - including kerbside collection of batteries and textiles.

What do the other parties say?

Labour support these plans. The Conservatives broadly support food-waste collection but refuse to say how they'd fund it. They've offered no alternative plan. When they ran the council, they completely ignored the recycling problem.

“I still have some unanswered questions”

For any other queries, please email us at hello@hertsmerelibdems.org.uk