Simpler Recycling uncertainty: How local are authorities preparing?


Local authorities

Mark Davies, Chief Executive, Lancaster City Council, discusses the uncertainty surrounding Simpler Recycling reforms for local authorities and the innovative work his council is taking on.

The general election has the potential to lead to yet more uncertainty over the implementation of Simpler Recycling reforms. But waste collection teams, including those at my council Lancaster, are working hard to get ready.

Our goal, like that of the government, is that we recycle more and waste less. The reforms present an opportunity to do this that we must seize. However, success is not a foregone conclusion.

Simpler Recycling collections are due to begin in March 2026, which does not give us long to prepare. The government repeatedly delayed giving us the full details of its plans, diminishing councils’ ability to respond.

Mark Davies
Mark Davies, Chief Executive, Lancaster City Council.

It was only in early May this year that it finally published its response to the Simpler Recycling consultation, which confirmed the timeline of the reforms.

Little surprise then that a District Councils’ Network survey earlier this year showed two-thirds of our councils were not confident they would have food waste collections in place before the deadline. 

Funding is a worry – in a snap survey, the DCN recently found that 86% of survey respondents believed the money supplied by the government was insufficient to cover their costs.

Over four in five expressed concern that they are expected to procure vehicles without any indication of what revenue funding would be provided to maintain these services.

It is not prudent for councils to plan to increase our waste budgets by an average of 21% without any knowledge of future funding. 

Defra officials have worked hard to develop a model for costs– unfortunately, this doesn’t reflect the costs councils will actually incur.

Central models don’t necessarily reflect the actual distance our vehicles must travel to reach tipping points or the true number of collection routes we need in our unique geographies.

Nearly half of councils worried about meeting Defra’s deadline have expressed concern about procurement timelines.

Nearly half of councils worried about meeting Defra’s deadline have expressed concern about procurement timelines.

The rule of supply and demand demonstrates the danger of so many authorities going out to procurement pretty much simultaneously for vehicles and bins.

There will inevitably be a spike in demand – and this is hardly likely to offer taxpayers value.

With extra vehicles and collection routes being required, more drivers are required too, and this is already an area of difficulty.

HGV drivers are very much in demand and have seen their pay rise significantly in recent years. The danger is that councils will be unable to afford the required rates – or simply have too few drivers. The competition for drivers will be ferocious.  

And then we get to depots. Many councils’ depots are too small to cope with the extra vehicles and facilities required. Land is often unavailable and is far from cheap. So far Defra has offered no extra money. For many councils, a new depot is likely to come with a multi-million-pound bill.

Despite the challenges, there are many opportunities

Simpler Recycling

The challenges we face are significant but this does not mean that we’ve lost sight of the opportunities.

The reforms should be used as an opportunity to encourage residents to change their behaviour and reduce waste. Food waste prevention or collection will cut the amount of residual waste we need to collect. But this won’t happen overnight. 

An education drive is required to change habits. To reach out to all members of our communities, we need to invest in campaigning and engagement.

As with any work on climate change, Lancaster is keen to work hard to engage residents on waste. This helps to inform them about why we are doing what we do – and what they need to do to get involved.

This stops us from getting on the wrong foot and ensures we get the buy-in of our communities. 

The government must fund local authorities to get out into our communities to deliver the behavioural change required to reach the government’s target to halve residual waste by 2042.

However, the back-office staff who might do this are increasingly under pressure as councils reel from rising costs – districts absorbed an average 13% increase in our waste costs last year. Fliers on bins and social media posts alone will not be enough to take residents with us.

What changes are Lancaster County Council driving?


Lancaster is driven by what our communities want. We are dismayed that the government’s guidance seeks to prevent councils from collecting residual waste less regularly than fortnightly.

This prevents us from developing solutions appropriate for our communities when it comes to balancing the frequency of collections, efficiency and cutting emissions.

Many residents in Lancaster’s rural areas already compost their food waste – sending a van to collect food waste every week is an unnecessary expense and will lead to unnecessary emissions. 

The 12 district councils and county council in Lancashire are considering how we best work together as disposal and collection authorities.

The first stage of this has been working together to develop a data model that will ensure any decisions about changes to infrastructure and services are based on evidence.

We are dismayed that the government’s guidance seeks to prevent councils from collecting residual waste less regularly than fortnightly.

This will also provide meaningful comparisons across Lancashire districts, reflecting the different communities we represent.

Across the country, district councils are ready to make a success of these reforms. But we want the government to work with us to ensure we receive adequate funding to implement them and enough time to acquire the kit and get sufficient buy-in from residents.

The expertise of local councillors and council officers is key to the success of implementing any such reform programme.

Local authorities are ready and actively preparing for change. But we need the government to appreciate both what we bring to the table in terms of local knowledge and expertise, and what we need from them to deliver these reforms and our overall waste services even more efficiently and effectively.

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