Wheelie bin U-turn as Greenwich Council scraps cut to recycling collections

Green blue black bin van
Greenwich said it was suffering from staff shortages in its refuse team

Updated story: Greenwich Council has reversed a decision to make its recycling collections fortnightly after widespread criticism from residents and opposition politicians. Blue-topped bins will still be collected weekly after two days of confusion about the council’s policy.

On Monday, the council announced on social media that because of staff shortages, it would be cutting back on the frequency of its blue-topped bin collections, linking to a page on its website announcing this. An announcement was also placed in Greenwich Info, its fortnightly newssheet.

However, the social media announcements were deleted on Tuesday morning and information about the new system was taken off the council website – leading to a day of confusion about the new arrangements.

The announcement seemed to catch councillors on the hop. “News to me,” commented Kidbrooke Park’s John Fahy on Twitter.

John Fahy was among the councillors caught out

“The bin service was the best thing Greenwich Council did for most residents so this reflects a council in serious decline,” said former Tory councillor Spencer Drury.

In Greenwich, recycling is put in blue-topped bins, garden and food waste in green bins and other rubbish in black bins. The black bin collection is due to go fortnightly next February – which left residents even more baffled about why the recycling collections were being cut.

Greenwich Info screen grab
Binned: Some residents – the ones who did not put it straight in their recycling – may have seen this announcement in Greenwich Info, the council’s newssheet

Just after 5pm on Tuesday, the council said the announcement was a mistake – and that blue-topped bin collections would continue as normal. Staff will attempt to catch up with missed collections – mainly in the north and west of the borough – later this week.

Many councils are suffering issues with bin collections this summer, ranging from a shortage of HGV drivers and problems caused by the record-breaking temperatures. In east London, Labour-run Waltham Forest performed a similar U-turn earlier this month.

Closer to home, Tory-run Bexley – which contracts out its collections – has been suffering problems, compounded by industrial action.

Averil Lekau, the council’s deputy leader, told 853 in a statement this evening: “The Council is currently faced with a number of challenges, including maintaining collections during the recent heat waves and the ongoing issue all councils are facing to recruit heavy goods vehicle drivers.

“We’re grateful to all our waste collection staff who continued their duties in extreme temperatures whilst still having to wear protective equipment. We are proud of the fact that our service still collected the overwhelming majority of bins during this time.

“In order to try and minimise the impact of these issues, a number of decisions were made including allowing staff to take more frequent breaks to get out of the heat, rest and rehydrate, even though it meant that it might take longer to complete some rounds.

“We also took a decision to prioritise collecting green and black top bins over blue bins as this is what the government advises. But it was a mistake to say blue top recycling bins may only be collected every two weeks until further notice. I would like to apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.

“We’ve taken the decision today, 23 August, to rectify this proposal with immediate effect. We will aim to collect all rounds as normal moving forward and if any rounds are missed we will do our best to collect them as soon as possible.”

Tweet and webpage announcing changes
Trashed: These announcements were deleted from social media and the council website

The council’s Conservative opposition leader, Matt Hartley, said: “This episode has been a shambles from start to finish – and it doesn’t bode well for the major service changes the council is going to be implementing, including the switch to fortnightly black bin collections in February.

“Communicating those changes clearly and accurately to residents is going to be crucial – for example, in ensuring that everyone who needs a larger black bin receives one before the switch to fortnightly collections takes place.

“All of this adds up to a very confused approach to managing a service that used to be seen as the gold standard.”

Next week’s bank holiday will also interfere with bin collections, meaning they will come a day later than normal.

Jobs in the council’s refuse teams are being advertised on its website.

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