A question mark is hanging over how cash-strapped councils across Cumbria will cope with a major Government overhaul of waste collection.

The massive changes are due be rolled out at a borough, county and national level over the next three years, leaving authorities with “major” financial and logistical challenges to resolve.

Cumbria Strategic Waste Partnership (CSWP) has now appointed a new boss to spearhead the county’s response to the shake-up.

The creation of the role comes weeks after Allerdale council provoked widespread community anger when it announced the suspension of collections of garden waste and mixed glass, plastic and tins following problems with its contactors FCC.

Under the plans, each of the seven main councils in Cumbria would pay in around £7,000 to support the two-year fixed term role hosted by the county council.

The partnership officer would help the councils work together to achieve the changes which include introduction of separate weekly food waste collections by 2023, and the requirement to collect extra materials, some of which are difficult-to-recycle.

Local authorities now pick up about 90 per cent of waste collection costs but the Government wants to make packaging producers pick up the tab.

But the details of how this might work out, including the new requirements for producers and supermarkets, are still to be ironed out.

Under the plans, some of the new burdens on local authorities would be “Government-funded” but a recent meeting of Copeland council’s executive heard that there was some “scepticism” about this.

Coun Steven Morgan said that anything that will help the environment and reduce pollution is a good thing but expressed concerns over how the plans might affect the council on a financial and practical level, particularly with so many details still to be agreed.

He predicted that the changes, including the compulsory roll-out of weekly food waste collections, might mean some “additional costs” for the council, thought the full budgetary impact for local authorities remains unclear at this stage.

Coun Morgan added: “The devil is in the detail in as much as collection costs to the council could go up as well as the cost of products to consumers.

“It may be difficult to assess the payment schemes with producers and funding sourcea for additional council costs. These have not been determined. However, all of that is the subject of future consultation which we should be very aggressive and active in our response.

“What is important is that requirements impacting council’s operations need to be determined and publicised as early as possible.

“We could wind up having to buy equipment that won’t fit the needs. We can ill-afford to buy expensive equipment or modify existing equipment only to learn that the requirements will be later altered and expanded.”

Legislation will also force businesses to arrange to separate dry recyclables and food waste from non-recyclable waste by 2023.

The council may also have to contend with a potential ban on charging for garden waste collections and will face greater pressure to work more closely with other local authorities in the county.

Meanwhile, a series of possible “deposit return schemes” rolled out across the UK is expected to have a “detrimental impact” on kerbside recycling services.

The raft of measures will require local authorities to collect a greater range of items for recycling by 2023 including: glass, bottles and containers; paper and card; plastic bottles; plastic pots, tubs and trays; steel and aluminium tins and cans.
Councils could also be asked to collect food and drinks cartons and potentially plastic film for recycling.

Under the plans, the waste performance of every council would be measured and compared against other local authorities nationwide.

Coun Nigel Christian, Portfolio holder for Environment and Transport at Carlisle, said the changes would likely have a “significant impact” on services.

But he said the authority would continue to work with councils across the county to ensure it was “fully prepared to respond to the challenges” ahead.

He said: “At this stage, we do not anticipate significant changes to the way we collect dry household recycling in Carlisle but the planned introduction of mandatory and separate food waste collection from 2023 is likely to have a significant impact on our services. It will also require residents to sort their household waste differently in the future.

“We welcome the commitment of Central Government to allocate additional funding to support the introduction of food waste collections and we will develop plans and prepare our services as more detail emerges.

“In readiness for this, we are actively supporting the Cumbria Strategic Waste Partnership, including contributing to the funding of a Project Officer post to ensure we are prepared for the changes and working collaboratively to ensure we continue to provide high quality, priority services for the people of Carlisle.”

Presently, food waste is not collected for recycling in Cumbria and there are no existing facilities to process food waste in the county.

The report recommends that such processing plants would need to be developed in Cumbria, or arrangements made to send food waste out of county.

Commenting on the changes, Copeland council’s chief executive Pat Graham described the roll-out as “a massive strategic change” for councils.
Allerdale council is yet to resume full recycling service, with the suspension intended to allow contractor FCC Environment to resolve ongoing delays with domestic rubbish collections which began at the start of a new deal in April.

Council leader Marion Fitzgerald said the council was aware of the proposals by central Government to make changes to how local authorities collect waste and recycling from 2023. She added: “The Council is supportive of any initiatives which support increased recycling and help to improve environmental quality.

“Among those proposals are weekly food waste collections and potentially mandatory free garden waste collections.

“The council already offers weekly refuse collection and a free garden waste collection service (outside of the current suspension).

“Our officers are looking into the Government’s proposals and how they might affect the authority in the future from an operations perspective and what cost implications there might be.

“These policy considerations have been factored into a report into the Council’s future options for delivering waste and recycling services which Executive members will consider on September 4.”