More than three quarters of English councils now pick up household rubbish which cannot be recycled or composted just once a fortnight, a survey reveals.
Amid pressure on councils to boost recycling and cut costs, some have gone further, with six local authorities picking up residual household waste only once every three weeks.
An investigation by the Press Association shows 248 out of 326 local authorities (76%) across England with responsibility for waste collections run fortnightly general rubbish rounds for some or all households.
Some councils alternate picking up household rubbish one week with recycling collections the next, while others collect recycling weekly, and many have separate food waste collections and retain more frequent pick-ups for flats.
Bin collections have proved controversial in the past, with Tory ministers insisting it was a “basic right” to have rubbish collected every week, and providing £250 million during the coalition years to maintain weekly rounds.
But with councils having to boost recycling rates to 50% by 2020 under EU targets and save money in the face of cuts, the trend towards less frequent collections of waste that cannot be recycled, reused or composted is continuing.
Several councils have moved to fortnightly collections in recent months, and at least four local authorities with weekly waste pick-ups are making the move in the coming year, the research shows.
Wigan Council made the shift to collections of residual rubbish once every three weeks in September, joining Salford, Rochdale, Oldham and Bury in Greater Manchester which already have three-weekly pick-ups.
Elsewhere, East Devon Council has brought in three-weekly collections and service provider SUEZ recycling and recovery UK said there had been a 10% increase in recycling rates over the past 12 months.
But with annual household recycling rates across England falling last year, chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: “To increase household recycling rates government needs to integrate waste and recycling planning into a modern industrial strategy which values the things we throw away as raw materials for manufacturing, and as an energy resource.”
North Devon introduced a trial in June to pick up rubbish destined for landfill just once every three weeks as part of changes aimed at boosting recycling and saving money to protect front-line services.
Wigan’s director of economy and environment, Karl Battersby, said the move to a three-weekly collections for residual rubbish would help increase recycling and save £2 million a year for the cuts-hit council.
“Recycling helps us to keep council tax low, protects frontline staff, for example school crossing patrols, and ensures we can continue to fund essential services.
“We knew more needed to be done for the borough to reach its savings and recycling target. If the borough doesn’t hit its recycling target of 50% by 2020 it could be fined which may result in cuts to other services,” he said.
The Local Government Association’s environment spokesman Martin Tett said there was no “one size fits all” solution to collecting bins, but councils knew that a “reliable and efficient” waste and recycling service was hugely important to residents.
Polling showed 80% people were happy with bin collections, regardless of the frequency with which they were picked up, he said.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the four-year funding settlement provided councils with £200 billion and certainty to plan ahead and they should be able to provide effective services.
“It is for councils themselves to determine how they spend this across services, including on waste collection and how frequently collections take place.
“However, it is it is vital they consider the wishes of their residents, many of who want to see their bins collected as frequently as possible.”
:: Information about frequency of residual “black bin” waste collections from households was sourced through a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association and from publicly available information on local authority websites.