Agenda item

Pre-decision Scrutiny of the Garden Waste Service.


Following the video presentation of responses from Monmouthshire residents, Officer Laura Carter delivered the report.


An increase of £18 to £35 is 94%, and therefore very excessive. What sort of drop-off is expected for this service, given such a large increase? Are we trying deliberately to cut off this service?

We have highlighted that there is a funding gap, and have worked out what we would need to charge in order to close it. The recommendation for today is to consider and approve the charge levied. From today, we hope that the idea of a charge will be agreed, to take to Cabinet subsequently. The report does not propose that the full cost be charged – we are asking Select today to make a recommendation on the cost for us.

The report states that many authorities use the recycling service, and keep it free, to keep their recycling targets high. How will such a steep increase help us in this endeavour?

Yes, councils do subsidise garden waste collections. Some are in the situation where they would fail to meet their targets without doing so; Monmouthshire isn’t quite in that position, though we were very close to hitting the 65% last year. It is a concern. 8% of our garden waste is collected kerbside; we believe that even if there were a drop-off, most of the garden waste would be presented at our HWRCs – so it would still be in our recycling rates, just through a different means.

Regarding manual labour and crews, have we not consulted the unions?

Our Operations Manager is in close contact with the unions, and has discussed matters with them.

Why are these changes happening now? There have been many phases of changes with bags – why weren’t wheelie bins introduced earlier, especially given their prior use in other authorities?

We have talked for some time about moving over to wheelie bins from a manual handling perspective. A recent HR report cited muscular-skeletal injuries as the highest form of sickness for crews. We need to procure vehicles: the 2012 vehicles that we have should have already been replaced, and we are encountering a lot of problems with them. Hiring vehicles is very expensive, so is not an option. Waste is facing massive in-year budget pressures, so we were asked to look at possible ways to alleviate them.

The report mentions an Abergavenny company taking the garden waste – do they pay for that, or do we pass it on for free?

Abergavenny Garden Waste Compost has the contract to compost Monmouthshire’s garden waste, for which we pay them, x amount per tonne. There is no income back.

The report mentions possible redundancies/redeployment – where would those workers be redeployed? Have those discussions taken place?

Fortnightly wheelie bin collections would mean that one crew that currently collects garden waste would be redeployed. Next year, we are introducing reusable red and purple bags that need additional crew members. Our loaders are employed as loaders, whether they load garden waste, refuse or recycling – they would simply shift on to a different round.

What is the rationale for two-weekly collections – will this not overload vehicles?

Whatever the council’s decision, we need to procure vehicles urgently. If we continue with reusable bags, we will need to procure vehicles that are very similar to those we have now; if the decision is for fortnightly bins then we will need vehicles with specialist lifts to make the collections quicker and more efficient. The weight for fortnightly collections would be comparable with now. The round size would be reduced, as we would take on more capacity per household.

Have 120L wheelie bins been considered, as used in Powys, as they might be easier to move when full?

We spoke with Torfaen this morning about this, as that is what they offer their citizens who can’t manage a 240L bin, whereas we have offered a reusable bag. It is something we could look at, but the collection charge would have to remain the same as for a 240L bin, for the proposal to work financially.

In terms of assisted collection, what are the criteria for qualifying on a case-by-case basis?

If someone applies for an assisted collection, one of our Waste Education team will either make a phone call or visit in person, to assess various criteria. Some of these include, ‘does the applicant live with someone who is able to put out the bin for them?’, ‘how far will our crews need to travel to make the assisted collection’, etc.

It could be disputed that a wheelie bin would be easier to clean than the current bags.

We could offer the reusable bag to anyone who feels they will be unable to clean their bin sufficiently.

Can we be reassured that those who live in terraced houses, or have steps or other difficulties, would be allowed to keep their brown bags?

Yes, if members of the public live in a terraced property, and there’s no storage, we will offer them the alternative equivalent litreage of reusable bags.

Can the new vehicles be used to collect wheelie bins and bags? Could the public be given the choice?

No, the specialist lifts would not be suitable for loading manual bags simultaneously. Officers have discussed the option of providing a choice to residents. When we’ve looked at this though, we wouldn’t be able to procure the specialist lifts, and would need to continue the service with the ‘tuck under’ bar lifts. This would push our collection costs back up to where we are now, at £660,000. By offering bags to those in terraced houses, or who can’t manage a bin, we believe we can offer small amounts of bags to these customers; we will probably put on a separate round on a different day using a different vehicle without a lift. But we don’t think that we will be able to provide a choice to people to use either the bin or bag.

What would be the cost for those able to continue using a bag?

In the report, we propose the same cost for a wheelie bin or the equivalent litreage in bags. So it would be £35 for one bin or three bags, fortnightly.

Could residents have the option to purchase bags to supplement their garden work e.g. for those with uneven ground who need to carry their weeds to the bin?

Once we are at the point of residents with uneven land or long drives, it becomes extremely difficult to quantify, to agree/disagree. At that point, the scheme would probably be undeliverable. If we were to give people the choice and we ended up with too many reusable bags, we wouldn’t be able to manage them within our existing rounds, and potentially would need additional costs for additional crews and vehicles.

Councillors’ further comments:

Councillor Batrouni: I thought that the 94% increase was being recommended because in Appendix 4, it says ‘Monmouthshire proposed change and cost.’ If that is not the specific intention, it needs to be clarified. If the real reason for the changes is cost pressure, I feel that that needs to be stated outright. If the unions have been consulted, the report should reflect that. I would like to know the potential implications in terms of drop-off, whether it is a 94% increase or less, and would like the committee to see the HR reports pertaining to muscular-skeletal injuries.

Councillor Pratt: What is being proposed will be the best value for money for our customers, and for us to continue with this service. It is highly valued by our residents but we must remember that it is not statutory – as it is not something that we have to do, we need to think about how much we would be willing to subsidise it. Many of our residents don’t use this service (they have a small garden, or no garden), so we need to consider whether they would be happy subsidising it for others. Yes, we pay for services that are not for everyone’s use, but these tend to be mandatory e.g. schools. We get through 12,000 bags a year; as we have declared a Climate Emergency, we must think of ways in which we can reduce this waste. The bins are made from 95% recycled plastic, and are produced in the UK – unlike the existing bags. Subsidising this service would mean cutting the budget of another. Many customers will still be paying under £1 per week for this service.

Councillor Easson: I don’t think the difference between taking purple and blue sacks now, and taking the purple and blue hessian sacks is clear. I am concerned about the criteria for assisted collection qualification, as the decision would be made by the council, though the individual would know their own capabilities and circumstances better.

Councillor Powell: Regarding subsidies, it should be remembered that Monmouthshire is the worst funded County Council – other councils can make the service free because they have the funding, whereas if we were to do so the burden would go back on to the taxpayer.

Councillor Woodhouse: My ward is around 95% terraced properties. It is reassuring to hear that they could have the bags. I would like to see this opportunity given to people without them having to go through a vetting process – give them the choice. Many properties don’t have a side access, so they would need to bring the bin through their house. I am concerned about narrow streets in which cars are partly or wholly parked on the pavement. Bins might be left out all day with people working, whereas at least an empty bag can be pushed aside to stop it being an obstacle. Safe routes to schools are a particular concern. I would ask that bags are made readily available for these sorts of streets. I am concerned that people currently with one bag will drop off, as they will have to pay £35 for a bin without needing that capacity.

Councillor Webb: I am also concerned about the residents not being allowed a choice, particularly considering the instance of someone with a small garden only wanting one bag. I think they should be given the choice.

Councillor Brown: In my ward, there are very high slopes on drives: I am not sure how easy it will be to manoeuvre a wheelie bin in those circumstances. It would be good if the flexibility officers have described were included in the recommendations, to reassure residents and members. I therefore suggest having flexibility in the garden waste collection system to allow for garden bag provision for the elderly and infirm, those with uneven sloping and/or topography of land issues, and storage issues. Regarding cost, there is a balance between the charges that are increased, and the customers that are lost. On a bulk basis, I wonder how cost-effective this actually is.

Chair’s Summary:

We have debated the ease-of-use of bags or wheelie bins; it seems to be a personal preference. Whichever option we decide would depend on the type of vehicle we procure, which will collect both bags and wheelie bins, or there will be different collections with a separate vehicle. The possibility of smaller 120L bins can be explored, but the collection charge would need to remain the same. When we do assessments for people needing assisted collections, it will be done either over the phone or in person (though not under the current Covid guidance.) Cleaning bins has been mentioned, which again seems to be a matter of personal opinion. Members have asked for reassurance that residents with difficulty of access can have a bag instead, and have asked for flexibility, especially owing to concerns of age, inclined land, etc. However, this will incur more charges. Officers will ensure that the HR report goes out to all members of the committee, and will supply the figures for the expected drop-off in customers.

Vote on Recommendations

On the introduction of wheeled bins, the committee was against them. 


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