This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This briefing provides an overview of the main legal provisions on household waste collection, but it does not cover all exceptions to the law. Constituents should seek professional legal advice if they require tailored advice for their individual circumstances.
MPs and their staff can contact the Library for information about the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland and for further information relating to any part of the UK.
What waste materials should a local authority collect?
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 household waste rests on where it is produced (see next FAQ) and on specific exclusions from the definition in regulations.
In addition, 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 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 ,as amended, extend this list to further properties, including places of worship and penal institutions.
Section 45 of the EPA 1990 provides an exemption to the household waste collection duty of where the premises are, “so isolated or inaccessible that the cost of collecting it would be unreasonably high”.
Are there any plans to change materials collected for recycling?
Yes, in England.
Section 57 of the Environment Act 2021 will allow the government to amend recycling collection requirements to ensure the same materials are collected across all local authorities.
The UK Government published a response to its Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England consultation in October 2023. It confirmed that all local authorities in England will be required to collect paper and card, plastic, glass, metal, food waste, and garden waste. The government’s response contains further information about the exact materials included.
These changes are expected to begin by 31 March 2026.
There are no proposed changes to household materials to be collected in Wales.
What about food waste collections?
All councils in Wales already provide a weekly food waste recycling service.
For England, the UK Government has proposed that councils must arrange a weekly collection of food waste for recycling or composting. For most local authorities, this is expected to begin by 31 March 2026.
Can recycled materials be ‘co-mingled’ (mixed)?
Regulation 13 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 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; and
- 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.
The UK Government plans to change the rules so that councils in England will only need to offer 3 waste containers. These would be for dry recycling, food waste and residual (non-recyclable) waste. An optional garden waste collection will be available to all households, but councils could charge for this. Further regulations will be required to bring these changes come into force, which are expected to begin by 31 March 2026.
How frequently does household waste have to be collected?
This is currently a matter for local authority discretion. While the EPA 1990 imposes a duty to collect household waste, there is no provision in this Act or associated regulations that imposes an explicit frequency of collection.
For England, the UK Government has proposed, subject to further consultation, requiring local authorities to collect residual (non-recyclable) waste at least fortnightly.
Constituents can check their bin collection day through the GOV.UK page, Find out your rubbish collection day.
Can a 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”.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012, 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
The UK Government had consulted on whether to introduce free garden waste collections in England, but has now ruled this out.
Although councils have powers to charge for household garden waste collection, some choose to collect it free of charge.
Does medical waste from households have to be collected?
Under schedule 1 of the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012, as amended, “clinical waste” and “offensive waste” produced at a domestic property are to be treated as household waste, subject to certain exceptions.
The terms “clinical” and “offensive” are defined further in schedule 1. Waste meeting this definition must therefore be collected by the waste authority. The regulations also provide that waste collection authorities may charge for the collection of clinical and offensive waste.
Can the local authority specify what bins are used and where they are placed?
Yes. Section 46 of the EPA 1990 provides that a local authority can require the waste to be collected in receptacles of a specified kind and number. In setting requirements, the authority may make provision with respect of:
- 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; and
- the steps to be taken by occupiers of premises to facilitate the collection of waste from the receptacles.
Local authority websites normally provide further information about local 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.
What can someone do if they are unhappy with their waste service?
If someone believes that a local authority has not taken reasonable steps to meet its waste duties, 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 an ombudsman. In England this is the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman. In Wales it is the Ombudsman Wales.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.