Council’s carbon-cutting frustration due to funding mystery

North Yorkshire Councill is looking to delay the implementation of weekly food waste collections because the government has not said  how much funding it would give the service.

Several members of North Yorkshire Council’s executive underlined their recommendation to delay the service until up to 2043 to a full meeting of the authority next Wednesday in no way reflected their determination to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.

The urgent calls for Government action appear to mark a significant shift in policy for the authority, coming four years its leadership stated it was opposed to the introduction of a separate food waste collection service.

When in 2020 the Government committed to rolling out separate household food waste collection across the country by 2023, 51 per cent of local authorities already collected food waste separately as it significantly improves recycling rates.

However, in 2019 the council stated it did not support the separate collections as it already recovered organic matter from residual waste at the county’s Allerton Park energy-from-waste plant in a “very cost-effective way”.

A meeting of the council’s current executive heard how separate collections could realise up to a 3,300-tonne reduction in carbon emissions a year compared to the current arrangements.

By collecting food waste separately, the council could increase the amount that can be converted into green electricity using an anaerobic digester. The delay would mean the carbon equivalent of an extra 18 million kilometres of diesel car emissions every year.

Although the council has effectively been given consent by Whitehall mandarins to delay implementing one of its flagship carbon cutting schemes due to its waste disposal contract running until 2043, the authority’s executive members said they wanted the service launched long before that “backstop position”.

However, officers told the meeting the council had received “no further clarity” over Government funding for introducing the new food waste collection service, saying the authority faced a bill of anything up to £6.4m annually.

Despite appeals by MPs and from the council’s leader Councillor Carl Les to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey, an officer told the meeting “in some regards we are no further ahead than we were in December”.

One executive member suggested the failure to respond to the council’s appeals for clarity over funding was due to “to-ing and fro-ing in the corridors of Whitehall”.

Climate change boss Councillor Greg White said while council wanted to launch the separate collections with a county-wide overhaul of bin collections in 2027, it faced “very significant additional costs” over the separate food waste service.

He said: “Three thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide saved is huge, significant and something we want to do, but we can’t do that – with the best will in the world – if we don’t know what it’s going to cost us and at the moment we haven’t got sufficient clarity from the government.”

Other executive members said the authority, which is already facing having to cut a 30m annual deficit, needed “crystal clear” figures from the Government before it could launch separate food collections and emphasised they had been left facing a choice of cutting carbon or funding other council services.

Councillor Simon Myers said: “As a responsible executive what we can’t do is take a decision when we don’t know the financial consequences for our residents at a time when there are financial pressures anyway.”