By: Peter Jones
Principal Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd

Myth takes – “Private bin collections would be cheaper”

You surprisingly often find newspaper stories bashing council waste collections and suggesting that it would be better, and perhaps even cheaper, for households to sort out their own waste collections privately. Having looked at what it costs councils to do the work, and some international comparisons, I’m confident that if there was competition in the market, householders would pay more, and unless the market was well regulated might end up recycling less. A monopoly, public interest provider is simply in the best place to deliver the most efficient collection rounds thanks to the really high collection density it gives them – whether they do so through their own staff, or a private contractor.

Have you seen this argument put forward? Do you think there are other good reasons, around freedom of choice or quality of service that might make it reasonable for people to want to pay extra for waste collections? Do you agree that buying in your bin service privately would be more expensive – or perhaps you might have experiences to share from countries such as Ireland that already have a private system in place. Interested to hear your thoughts.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as councils adopt two, three or even perhaps four weekly residual waste collections, some disgruntled folk start wondering whether they might be able to buy in more frequent collections privately. However, anyone who thinks that “going private” would be cheap, or might be covered by a rebate from Council Tax for those who opted out would be in for a big surprise.


Are advocates of private bin collections leading us up a blind alley? Photo by Jes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via Flickr.


The latest article peddling this idea appeared in the Daily Express a couple of weeks ago, based on a survey of 4,012 people by regular headline grabbers. I’ve been unable to find any details of the survey method or questions on the company’s website, but the results were quite literally incredible:

  • 95% had experienced a missed collection
  • 98% have had rubbish left behind
  • 71% would pay for a private collection to replace the council service if it came with a council tax rebate
  • 51% would still pay, even if they didn’t get a tax rebate

Even if we take these results at face value (which I find difficult to do, as they’re so far removed from my experience), it seems unlikely that people realise quite what they’d be letting themselves in for. Even’s owner warned of the dangers of ‘fly-by-night’ companies and thought it might be necessary to require “entire streets” to sign up to a single supplier – apparently “to prevent a ‘turf war’” – though I suspect the issue would be more one of collection logistics.

Monopoly money:

In fact, the effective council monopoly on household waste collections helps to keep the service extremely efficient, and surprisingly cheap compared to the cutthroat commercial waste market. Feeding ‘middle of the road’ gate fees and material prices into WRAP’s ICP benchmarking tool, you find that weekly residual waste and fortnightly recycling costs between £100-140 per household per year, depending on geography, demographics and collection system.  Going fortnightly on residual waste knocks 10-20% off the modelled costs.

For comparison – 12 months of Rubbish Service would cost you £341 for three sacks weekly of residual waste only, while Bury Bins would set you back £437 – again, just for weekly residual waste. Any council tax rebate wouldn’t go very far towards meeting these extra costs.

Then there’s the hassle factor – do we really want another utility supplier to choose, on top of our electricity, gas, phone and broadband? All the indications are that few of us actively seek out the best deal in these markets, so one suspects that picking a waste collector isn’t something many people would relish.

We don’t have to look far to see how complicated it could be. Ireland has a private sector system for household waste collections, and looking at the baffling array of options available to Dublin households, I’ve no idea which would best suit my needs if I lived there. Frankly, they all look expensive compared to the council option.

You might also have concerns about whether Daily Mail journalists would sneak stuff into the bins that you are paying for. And of course, someone would need to make sure that households all had proper disposal arrangements in place – bin police with a vengeance!

So – if you’re tempted to believe the myth that private bin collections would be a better value service than what you receive from the council, I suggest you think again.