Councils try to tackle backlog of rubbish collections

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Media captionBBC's Mark Worthington: "The refuse collectors are working to rule"

A combination of severe winter weather and the festive break has led to a backlog of rubbish waiting to be collected in parts of the country.

There are concerns the situation could encourage rats and cause other health hazards.

Angry residents in Exeter say they have been told they may have to wait for up to a month for bin collections.

Many councils have asked crews to work through the bank holiday to try to clear the backlog.

In Birmingham, the situation was made worse by industrial action, which led to binmen walking out on 20 December in a pay dispute and subsequently working to rule.

Casual refuse collectors have been brought in to help council staff, but some areas have not had a collection for four weeks.

Matt Kelly, from Birmingham City Council, said: "We are apologetic, but we have had people working all over the weekend and today and we will have it sorted by Friday of next week."

He said the council usually dealt with a million sacks of rubbish a day, but the amount generated over Christmas and New Year was 30% higher than the average.

'Safety issue'

A Local Government Association spokesman said an "an extremely prolonged period of bad weather" had caused disruption for up to three weeks in some areas.

In many roads, especially untreated cul-de-sacs, refuse lorries have been unable to make their regular collections.

"It's a safety issue. It's not safe to send a 24-ton truck down an icy road," said the LGA spokesman.

The problem has been exacerbated by the Christmas and New Year holiday which produces large amounts of rubbish, including turkey carcasses and left-over food, and also delays regular collections.

But the LGA spokesman said: "As a result there is a backlog, but councils are working hard to clear that backlog."

But the Local Government Minister, Bob Neill, told the Daily Telegraph: "We need to think again about how we maintain these basic services over the holiday period.

"People do produce a lot of rubbish over Christmas, and it is disappointing that in some cases councils haven't showed more initiative about how to ensure people still get the services they pay for."

Rob Hannaford, who is responsible for the environment at Exeter Council, said it had been a difficult period and, although they were putting on extra crews, residents should recycle or compost as much as possible.

But James Taghdissian, a Conservative councillor in Exeter, said collecting rubbish was one of the most basic services and a statutory function.

"If we can't go out and get rubbish picked up... we're clearly not an excellent council," he said.

Image caption Exeter Council has urged residents to compost and recycle as much refuse as possible

There have also been problems reported in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire; Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; Poole, Dorset; St Helens and the Wirral, both on Merseyside.

Extra crews

Councils in Wales are also dealing with a backlog of waste.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said staff were working until 1900 GMT last week to fix the problem, but admitted the "sheer amount" meant some areas took until the weekend to clear.

Refuse staff worked throughout Sunday in Swansea and Cardiff City Council put on extra crews to catch up.

Caerphilly Council said normal collections were due to resume on bank holiday Monday while Merthyr Council said it could understand frustrations, but safety was "of the utmost importance".

In north Wales, Conwy Council was "working hard" to catch up with collections missed last week.

The situation appears to be better in Scotland where most councils say they are up-to-date with collections.

Only Perth and Kinross Council and Fife Council are reporting some limited disruption due to access problems caused by snow and ice.

The LGA said most councils were prioritising black bin bags ahead of non-perishable recycling material and were also relaxing rules on the types of vehicles allowed to drop off rubbish at municipal dumps.

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