This article aims to answer some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) that constituents may have about their household waste collections.
This article provides an overview of the main legal provisions in relation to household waste collection, but it does not cover all exceptions to the law and evolving case law. Constituents should seek professional legal advice if they require tailored advice for their individual circumstances.
What waste materials should a local authority collect from households?
In England a “waste collection authority” (in practice this is normally the district, metropolitan or city council; or unitary authority), has a duty to collect “household waste”, under section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended (EPA 1990). The definition of what can be classed as household waste turns on the question of where it is produced (see next question) and on specific exclusions from the definition in regulations. In addition to this, section 45A(3) of the EPA 1990 requires waste collection authorities to collect “at least two types of recyclable waste together or individually separated from the rest of the household waste.” Recyclable waste is defined later in this section as “household waste which is capable of being recycled or composted”.
What types of property can household waste be collected from?
The term “household waste” is defined in section 75(5) of the EPA 1990 as being waste from:
- domestic property, that is to say, a building or self-contained part of a building which is used wholly for the purposes of living accommodation
- a caravan
- a residential home
- premises forming part of a university or school or other educational establishment
- premises forming part of a hospital or nursing home which are used to provide a care home service
The Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/811), as amended, extend the circumstances in which waste should be treated as household waste to further sources, including places of worship and penal institutions, among others.
While under section 45 of the EPA 1990 a local authority must arrange for the collection of household waste, there are specified exceptions to this duty, including where the premises are “so isolated or inaccessible that the cost of collecting it would be unreasonably high”.
Can the local authority charge for the collection of household waste?
Yes, but only for specified types of household waste.
Section 45(3) of the EPA 1990 provides that “no charge shall be made for the collection of household waste except in cases prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/811), as amended, provides for these exceptions. It includes (among other things):
- Household waste that is generated from certain non-domestic properties, such as universities, hospitals and prisons
- Waste that weighs more than 25kg or that cannot fit into the bin provided
- Garden waste
Are there any plans to make the collection of garden waste free of charge?
Some local authorities already collect garden waste free of charge.
In the UK Government’s February 2019 Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England, it asked for views on whether households generating garden waste should be provided with access to a free collection service with a minimum fortnightly collection of 240 litre capacity. The July 2019 Executive summary and government response said that the Government would give further consideration to the costs and benefits of these measures before making a final decision.
There are no proposals for changes to the law in Wales.
Does medical waste from households have to be collected?
Under the provisions of schedule 1 of the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012, as amended, “clinical waste” and “offensive waste” produced at a domestic property, a residential home, a caravan or a vehicle or vessel used wholly for the purposes of living accommodation is to be treated as household waste, subject to certain exceptions. The terms “clinical” and “offensive” are defined further in schedule 1 of the regulations. Waste meeting this definition must therefore be collected by the waste authority. The regulations also provide that waste collection authorities are entitled to charge for the collection of clinical and offensive waste.
Do recycled materials have to be collected separately?
Regulation 13 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/988) requires a waste collection authority which collects waste paper, metal, plastic or glass to collect them separately. This duty, however, only applies where it is both:
- necessary to ensure that waste undergoes recovery operations in accordance with Articles 4 and 13 of the Waste Framework Directive and to facilitate or improve recovery
- technically, environmentally and economically practicable
In practice this means that many councils offer co-mingled collections of recycled materials, where the cost of separate collections is prohibitively high.
Are there any plans to change what is collected?
Yes – in England. In February 2019 the UK Government, under Prime Minister May, published a Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England. Among a wider range of measures aimed at increasing recycling rates it proposed that local authorities should have to collect the same set of core materials for recycling. The Executive summary and government response was published in July 2019 which confirmed that the Government will seek to amend legislation to require all English local authorities to collect at least the following dry materials from 2023:
- glass bottles and containers – including drinks bottles, condiment bottles, jars
- paper and card – including newspaper, cardboard packaging, writing paper
- plastic bottles – including clear drinks containers, HDPE (milk containers), detergent, shampoo and cleaning products
- plastic pots tubs and trays
- steel and aluminium tins and cans
The Government’s response also said that it will legislate to ensure that every local authority provides householders with a separate food waste collection. The Government’s preference was that this should be a separate weekly collection of food waste and not mixed with garden waste, but this is subject to further consideration about what is needed with respect to local circumstances.
How frequently does household waste have to be collected?
This is a matter for local authority discretion. While section 45 of the EPA 1990 imposes a duty on waste collection authorities to collect household waste, there is no provision in this Act or associated secondary legislation that imposes an explicit frequency of collection on authorities.
Can the local authority specify the type of bins to be used and where they should be placed?
Yes. The law relating to what local authorities can require in terms of receptacles for household waste is set out in section 46 of the EPA 1990. The waste collection authority may, by notice, require an occupier to place the waste for collection in receptacles of a specified kind and number. In setting requirements the authority may make provision with respect to:
- the size, construction and maintenance of the receptacles
- the placing of the receptacles for the purpose of facilitating the emptying of them, and access to the receptacles for that purpose
- the placing of the receptacles for the purpose of avoiding nuisance or detriment to the amenities of the area
- the placing of the receptacles for that purpose on highways
- the substances or articles which may or may not be put into the receptacles or compartments of receptacles of any description and the precautions to be taken where particular substances or articles are put into them
- the steps to be taken by occupiers of premises to facilitate the collection of waste from the receptacles
Waste collection authorities often provide the notice about these issues in the form of a household waste collection policy document – many of which are available from local authority websites.
What happens if someone doesn’t comply with a local authority’s requirements?
Local authorities have powers under section 46A of the EPA 1990, to issue written warnings and penalties for failure to comply with requirements relating to household waste receptacles.
This can be done when someone has both failed “without reasonable excuse to comply with a requirement” and that the person’s failure to comply his either “caused, or is or was likely to cause, a nuisance,” or “it has been, or is or was likely to be, detrimental to any amenities of the locality.”
A written warning must first be served on the individual before any fixed penalty notice is issued. The individual must be given a period of time (28 days) to make representations back to the council.
What can someone do if they are unhappy with their local authority’s household waste service?
If someone believes that the waste collection authority has not taken reasonable steps to meet its waste duties then they should first make a complaint to the local authority in question and follow through the complaints procedure. If the outcome is still not satisfactory then it may be possible to take a complaint to the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) who can consider whether the local authority has acted unreasonably in its duties. For further information about taking a complaint to the LGSCO see LGSCO factsheet on Waste and Refuse, June 2016.
- The Library research briefings Household recycling in the UK (September 2018) and Plastic waste (September 2019) provide further information.