Two-thirds of councils are not confident they can fund new Simpler Recycling services


District councils

Two-thirds of councils are not confident they will be able to fund the additional services required to implement Simpler Recycling reforms, a survey by the District Council Network showed.

In 2023, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched its Simpler Recycling policy as a replacement for “Consistency in Recycling”

The Simpler Recycling policy requires most district councils to collect household food waste weekly by 2026. The government’s reforms also included an expectation that residual waste be collected fortnightly. 

The District Council Network (DCN) survey, which was completed by 99 of its 169 member councils, showed that councils anticipate an average shortfall of at least £210,000 to fund the new vehicles and containers required to introduce food waste collections. 

This shortfall excludes the capital cost of investing in new or expanded depots which the government has indicated it will not fund, the DCN said.

The funding currently on offer is nowhere near enough.

When asked what the biggest barriers to implementing the reforms by the government’s deadline of 1 April 2026, 48% cited difficult procurement timelines, 44% cited the “complexity of arrangements” with county councils to dispose of new material, and 41% cited contract renegotiations.

46% of councils told the DCN they are confident they would be able to provide the new services to flats or remote properties by April 2026. The DCN said that many respondents indicated that, until full government guidance is released, they cannot plan how they will deliver services to these properties.

The survey also showed that councils have seen the costs of waste collections increase by 13% on average over the past year.

The DCN said the government’s calculation of the capital funding required by district councils was undertaken in 2018 and doesn’t take into account increased inflation. Some “already financially stretched councils” will be unable to afford to implement the reforms or will have to cut other capital programmes or services to do so, the DCN said.

The DCN survey found that 98% of district councils implementing new weekly food waste collections will need to buy new vehicles, or upgrade existing vehicles, and expect to spend £950,000 on average to achieve this.

Food waste
Councils anticipate an average shortfall of at least £210,000 to introduce food waste collections, the survey showed.

Councils with outsourced services expect their annual costs to increase by £800,000 as a result of these changes, which the DCN said is equivalent to 11% of their council tax income.

76% of councils also said they will need to expand their depot space to deliver the extra waste rounds required to implement weekly food waste collections, the survey found. The median cost of depot expansion was £1.5 million, with one council expecting the cost to reach £15 million, the DCN said.

The survey found one rural district will receive less than 50% of the capital to cover the cost of vehicles it requires to deliver services. While five district councils across a county area expect a collective shortfall of £2.1 million if buying diesel vehicles, or almost £6 million if buying electric vehicles.

Three councils which operate a joint contract face a shortfall of £750,000 to procure equipment, the DCN survey showed.

Commenting on the survey, Cllr Sarah Nelmes, Environment Spokesperson of the District Councils’ Network, said: “The government’s Simpler Recycling plan will mean significant service changes at many councils. New waste lorries, bins and, in some cases, larger depots will be required, all at great expense. 

“The funding currently on offer is nowhere near enough. Unless the government upholds the longstanding doctrine that it funds the full costs of any new burdens it imposes on councils, hard-pressed councils will have even fewer resources to support our communities.

“We are pleased the government listened to councils and to our residents when we feared their previous proposals would lumber households with up to seven bins and would be unworkable. Now the government needs to listen when we tell them that their new proposals – although an improvement – will be unrealistic unless councils are funded for the full costs.”

CIWM’s view

Lee Marshall, CIWM Policy and External Affairs Director, FCIWM MILM, commented: “It is concerning that councils are saying they will have a shortfall in funding for these new services.

“Throughout the process, government have consistently said that food waste services would be funded and that extended producer responsibility is based on the principle of full net cost recovery.

“Without suitable funding, it becomes harder to get the step change in recycling rates that is needed across England. As we have said previously, there was never any plan to introduce seven bins and there are numerous authorities that operate kerbside sort systems, with three boxes and a food caddy, very successfully and with high levels of satisfaction amongst residents.”

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