More than three quarters of the English district councils covered in this survey are now charging for garden waste collections - and generating significant revenues as a result. This is a relatively new development, with many councils introducing paid for collections for the first time in 2018. We wanted to find out how clear councils are being about these new regimes, some of which only charge for second and subsequent bins, and how easy they are making it for householders to sign up for services. As we have pointed out before (eg in connection with payment for parking fines) when people come to a transaction in a negative frame of mind, making the process anything less than simple just adds insult to (perceived) injury. Because we were keen to test the extent to which online ordering is now routinely available on council websites, we tested this aspect for ordering additional bins where garden waste collection is still a free service.
January and February 2018
English district councils and Nothern Ireland districts
As a rule, services that involve collection of money (eg pay parking fine, pay council tax) perform well in Better Connected. Perhaps because charging for garden waste is a relatively recent introduction, this survey produced a middling result, with fewer than half (46%) of all sites tested providing a good or very good service. We make the point that with more than three quarters of all sites now charging for collecting garden waste, councils need to be really clear about whether or not the service is charged for, especially as some councils are introducing complex systems whereby only collection of second and subsequent bins are paid for. Frustrations seen in other task reports emerge here: assumptions that site users already understand the waste collection system; key information about service provision appearing only in pdfs; and sign up for services requiring sign up to a ‘my account’ first.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
With around 76% of English shire districts now charging to collect garden waste, many starting a charged-for service this year, it is important that all councils are make very clear on their website the arrangements that are in place.
It good to report that this is clear in 91% of cases, according to our survey. Some councils that are not charging may feel that, as nothing has changed, they do not need to make a point of this. We would argue that they do, if only because newcomers to the area may have previously experienced paid for services. If in doubt, these new residents may feel the need to call the council to check the situation – something that can, and should, be avoided.
It is also the case that some councils offer a free collection on one bin or bag, with second and subsequent bags being charged for. This is a little complicated and needs to be made crystal clear in order to avoid unnecessary phone enquiries.
Some authorities appear to assume that residents will know which bin is used for garden waste. These are variously referred to as garden waste bin, ‘green’ bin and brown bin. 'Green' is an ambiguous word in this context. It may be taken to mean the colour of the bin, the colour of the contents (grass, leaves), or the fact that some of this waste can be recycled. Residents who have just moved into an area may struggle to find out which bin is used for what just by looking at the website.
There is an interesting variety of tones of voice about newly introduced paid for services. Some councils sound very apologetic about charging, citing austerity and funding cuts. Others are bullish about the excellent value for money provided by the council service and the convenience of having the waste collected rather than having to take it to the tip.
It is possible that embarrassment about charging explains why some councils hide details of costs in pdf documents which may also contain lengthy terms and conditions obscuring the most important detail. This is simply annoying. Charges are best made explicit on web pages, along with headline information about how the service works: collection cycles, how waste should be presented, what won’t be collected, who owns the bin and so on.
One consequence of many services having recently been introduced is that our Google search – the first question in the survey – sometimes turned up news stories about the introduction of paid for collections ahead of the service link. This was not a significant problem as can be seen in the 99% success rate for this question. But the danger of news trumping service information is worth noting with the lesson being that service-related news items should also be linked to service information in case users take that route from Google.
The vast majority of the 76% of councils that have paid for services, enable online ordering, but there some issues that need attention.
Garden waste collection tends to be offered as a seasonal service, with collections being suspended in the winter months. Too often, councils fail to provide easy access to information about when the service will resume. Linked to this, some councils did not have ordering available at the time the survey was conducted.
Of these, some gave no information about when the service would open, others no information about whether online ordering would be available when the service did open. It was rare to find a facility for those interested to sign up and then be notified when the service was about to open, surely a trick no e-commerce site would miss.
Some ‘online services’ actually required the council to call the applicant back in order for the transaction to be to completed. Apart from the cost to the council (these services are generating large volumes) this approach is also deficient from a user perspective, since it removes their control over when the follow up call is made.
It was disappointing to see that in 40% of cases councils were requiring people to register for a council account before ordering their garden waste service (or additional bin). Better Connected takes the view that customer accounts should be optional and sold on the benefits rather than forced on customers because of perceived benefits to the council.
A small number of garden waste collections are completely outsourced to waste management companies.
In terms of presenting garden waste for collection, there is much less scope for wrong-thing-in-wrong-bin problems than with general household waste and recycling tested in our survey Find out about putting the bins out. That survey showed most councils needing to be much clearer with their instructions, particularly about specific items.
With garden waste, there is only the one type of bin/bag and many fewer rules. Even so nearly 25% of sites were not very clear about presentation and a similar percentage were not clear about whether a specific item (soil) could be put out with garden waste.
The question Can I find details of my next waste collection through a postcode search OR an easily usable map was the same as was asked of English, Welsh and Scottish unitary councils in our Find out about putting the bins out survey. 92% of that cohort got the question right, with a slightly lower performance in this cohort of English and Northern Ireland district councils, at 84%.
The point of this question is to check that councils are making it really easy for people to find important information quickly. Reviewers were not impressed by one council that makes visitors go through a series of steps after they have entered their postcode, only to have to download a calendar (or sign up for an app).
Most councils have cracked this with a nice and simple process involving entering a postcode, selecting an address, and then being provided with actual collections dates for each bin type on the website.
We were a little surprised that reviewers found offers of email or SMS alerts about waste collections on only 12% of sites, given the number that seem to offer general email alert sign up invitations at every opportunity. We suspect that many waste service page owners simply do not link from their pages to a general email alert sign up. Or, for those who are already signed up, encourage them to add waste bin reminders to their alerts. These facilities must be explicit from service pages if they are to be effective.
It was also disappointing to see that on only 9% of sites did reviewers come across statistics about the councils' progress in meeting recycling goals. This compares with an also disappointing 24% of sites looked at for our Find out about putting the bins out survey.
We made the point in that survey report that where behaviour change is needed, providing feedback on progress is essential.
With garden waste services, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the focus is totally on establishing the paid for service, scant attention paid to the wider goal of getting people to reduce, reuse, and recycle (including, in the case of garden waste, creating their own compost).
Site is easy to navigate with all the information clearly outlined.
Good that all the information is published on the website. But it would be better if the information about how the bins should be left on the collection were not just under service terms and conditions.
I found it simple to find information about garden waste through a Google search, a site search and the site navigation. The content was clear and well laid out, and the site design helped me to find and complete the task easily. On entering my postcode to sign up for the garden waste scheme, the site remembered my postcode and presented me with my bin collection day without re-entering my postcode - a nice touch. Once you've given your postcode to join the waste collection scheme, the browser remembers your details and presents other information without the need to re-add your postcode e.g. find out your bin collection day.
Hinkley & Bosworth
Finding out about a garden waste collection was simple and straightforward, with clear content, design and the ability to apply online.
Kings Lynn & West Norfolk
It was easy to find out about garden waste. A Google search, the site search and navigation all made it easy to find the right page and all tasks were easy to complete online. The content, page titles and descriptions were clear so I was confident I was in the right place. The postcode search to find my bin day gave useful information. It was a bit of a dead end in that there were no links back to the waste section, though.
I found information about the garden waste service easily from Google, the site search and navigation. The content is clear and I could order the garden waste service easily online. Other rubbish and recycling-related tasks were also easy including finding out my bin day.
This site is notable because of the very informative page which describes why garden waste shouldn't go into landfill, and even breaks down every type of item that can't go in the bin along with the reason. This makes for a lengthy page, but it's very interesting and educational for the public, clearly aimed at changing behaviours. It would be helpful if the links to ordering the service gave you warning that these open in a new tab - otherwise it's potential confusing. Overall, though, the pages are informative, well laid out, easy to move through to gather information, with lots of related links.
Excellent - very clear information about the Garden Waste service, with plenty of info about how to sign up. A few slight ambiguities - for example, it says I can subscribe to up to 4 bins, but it's not clear if I can request all of those at once when ordering, nor what to do if I'm an existing customer wanting to get an extra one. I later found a small infographic on the separate "Suffolk Recycling" website, but this was several clicks away from the main pages.