A new study published today (27 March) by the Audit Commission called ‘Local authority waste management’ found that in 2012/13 authorities spent 3% of their total revenue spending (£3.9bn) managing 23m tonnes of household waste. This gross figure includes spending on landfill tax.

The spending watchdog stated that up to a possible £464m could be saved overall if councils “brought down their spending to the average for their authority type and waste responsibilities”.

The average spending on household waste management varied between local authorities with similar responsibilities. Most authorities that both collect and dispose of waste (58%) spent between £125 and £175 per household in 2012/13. A total of 28% spent more than £175 and 13% spent more than £200 per household, the report found.

Audit Commission chairman Jeremy Newman said: “It’s good news that local authorities have reduced their spending on household waste by £46m over the past four years and have reduced levels of waste sent to landfill.

“Councils have achieved these important improvements by working with local people and exercising choice about what works best in their own circumstances. Councils know their population and their needs and require the freedom to choose the approach to waste management most suited to them.

“The Audit Commission acknowledges the need to respect local decisions and has never told councils to use specific methods of waste collection or disposal. Targets and regulation around waste management are driven by the ‘waste hierarchy’ set out in legislation.”

Although recycling has increased, the rate is variable across the country. In 2012/13, the amount of waste recycled varied from 12% up to 67%, with one fifth of authorities recycling at least 50% of their household waste, said the Audit Commission.

However, the increase in recycling has slowed in recent years and 40 authorities recycled less than 30% of their household waste in 2012/13. Landfill has reduced everywhere, but some regions are still more reliant than others.

Newman explained: “In 2012/13 local authorities spent a fifth of their total expenditure on the most desirable option for household waste management: minimisation and recycling. They spent the other four-fifths on the collection and disposal of waste – the least desirable options.

“Councils have the power to influence and encourage residents to do the right thing and they control the levels of spending on the range of waste management options available to them. Their choices ultimately affect how well the environment is protected and the quality of waste services residents receive. Councils can use this briefing to consider how to manage household waste and what can be done to improve the service people receive and how to best protect the environment and reduce expenditure.”

Responding to the report, Biffa Municipal managing director Roger Edwards added: “There is a lot to digest in this comprehensive report. Biffa supports every effort by local authorities to recycle more, spend less, minimise waste and return value to their residents through efficient recycling improvement and waste reduction initiatives.

“Cross-sector work to improve the quality, and therefore market value, of recycled materials is an important objective for councils and contractors alike, an objective that must be supported by clear, coherent and informative communication campaigns targeted at residents.”

Liz Gyekye

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