Revealed: How much your local council charges to take away bulky waste - and how it compares to others

Rubbish collection is one of the most basic services provided by local councils - but not all household waste removal is covered by the cost of council tax.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 13:58
Not all your unwanted household items can be left out for the binmen to take away.

With councils facing increasing budget pressure, the majority of local authorities have introduced additional charges for bulky waste collections - a service many once provided for free.

What is classed as bulky waste?

Most councils charge for the removal of large items such as furniture and wooden units.

Bulky waste is furniture, household electrical items like televisions, and white goods including fridges and freezers - essentially all the things from your house you no longer need and can’t fit into a bin.

In 2017-18, there were nearly one million fly-tipping incidents in England. Of those, more than half - 521,895 - of the items dumped were white goods or other household waste - a category that includes furniture.

Why are councils allowed to charge for collecting bulky waste?

The collection of domestic waste is governed by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Controlled Waste regulations 1992.

Unwanted fridges, freezers, cookers and washing machines are among the items most people pay to have taken away.

The regulations say councils can charge for the collection of certain materials, including waste that does not fit into a household bin or waste which exceeds 25kg in weight.

Most councils provide some form of bulky waste service, whether directly, through a partnership with a waste contractor, or charities and social enterprises that specialise in recycling.

How much does it cost to have bulky waste collected?

Analysis by the BBC Shared Data Unit reveals widespread regional variation in how much people are being asked to pay, with prices ranging from just a few pounds for a single item to more than £100 for collections of multiple items.

White goods are among the things most commonly fly-tipped, by people who don't want to pay council charges to have them disposed of properly.

There is little consistency in the often-confusing pricing structures set by councils.

Here's how bulky waste collection charges vary across the North East

Sunderland: £20 for up to 8 items

Newcastle: Items priced by size: £40 for each heavy item, £10 for each large item, £20 for up to 8 small items, £70 for each special large item, £40 for each special small item

Old mattresses are another large item which council charge to take away - with many consequently being illegally dumped instead.

South Tyneside: £25 for up to 8 items

North Tyneside: Minimum charge of £10 per item, depending on size, type and quantity of bulky waste

Gateshead: Minimum charge £16. Total price depends on volume/type of items, categorised on size, weight & material.

Durham: £16 for up to 3 large items (beds, sofas, fridges) items £16, then £5 for each additional large item. Small items (toys, mirrors) 6 for £16, then £2.50 each

Hartlepool: £20 for up to three bulky items, up to 6 items for £40.

Stockton: £15 for the removal of up to 6 bulky household items.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Middlesbrough: £10 for up to 5 items

Northumberland: £16 for one item, £32 for 2-4 items, £64 for 5-8 items, 8+ quote available on request.

There is a north-south divide - householders in the south of England have to pay three times as much on average as those in the North East to have bulky waste collected.

On average, North East councils have the cheapest bulky waste collections.

How do councils decide how much to charge for bulky waste collection?

Most local authorities charge per item, but there are other ways of charging.

* Some assign items points to determine a price, other councils charge a set price no matter how many items are collected, while some have a minimum fee then additional charges.

* Some councils impose a separate charge, too, for the collection of white goods like fridges and freezers.

There is also widespread variation in discounts available for pensioners and people on benefits - and some councils do not offer any help at all.

Some councils will only pick up a certain number of items before charging, while others warn residents may have to wait several days or even weeks before their bulky waste is taken away.

A new government waste strategy was launched in December, which includes consulting on plans for manufacturers to foot the cost of disposing of the goods they produce.

What does Defra say about charges for bulky waste disposal?

A spokesman for Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "It is up to local authorities to set their priorities for the collection of waste and recycling on a local level – based on the needs of their local communities and within the national waste policy.

“Local authorities are able to charge what they see fit for the collection and disposal of ‘bulky waste’, but we expect them to consult on any charges with local residents.”

What the councils say about their bulky waste collection charges

The Local Government Association, which represents councils around the country, said: "Some councils were able to provide free garden and bulky waste services when they were first introduced, but are now having to charge to reflect the growing cost of providing a collection service.

“Councils in England face an overall funding gap of £3.2billion in 2019-20. Money from garden and bulky waste collection charges goes back into maintaining the service.”

Is there a connection between bulky waste collection charges and fly-tipping?

Professor Simin Davoudi, Professor of Environmental Policy & Planning, Newcastle University, said: “For people in deprived communities, paying £10 or £15 is quite a lot of money.

“The Local Government Association (LGA) did a survey and said there is no direct link between charging and fly-tipping.

“Charges for collecting bulky waste may not be the only factor in fly-tipping, but it is a factor.

"It seems to me that bulky waste charges are a bit of a false economy. The cost of clearing fly-tipping is much higher than the charge to collect.

“The figure for cleaning up fly-tipping in 2016/17 was nearly £60million. Next to that, the charges they have managed to collect are nothing.

“It needs proper investigation to see if it really is worthwhile to charge for collections rather than provide that extra incentive for people not to fly-tip.”