It is, paradoxically, good news that Eric Pickles has failed in an effort to force local councils to collect domestic refuse every week. Not that weekly collection, or even daily collection, is a bad thing, but it is no business of central government, and certainly no business of the EU, to micromanage local arrangements for refuse collection and disposal.
For decades, the unit costs of refuse collection in real terms have fallen. Initially, in response to high labour costs, dustbins were no longer collected from back doors but had to be moved to the edge of the curtilage for collection. Then black sacks* at the edge of curtilage, then black sacks at edge of footway, then wheely bins at edge of footway. At the same time refuse freighters got bigger and were fitted with compactors to reduce the number of trips to discharge. Now that transport and fuel costs are the challenge, economies are being made with the freighters themselves. These long-run cost adjustments saw the annual cost of refuse collection fall to around £30 per household - the price of a couple of cinema tickets. Not bad in anyone's book. And there were no appreciable economies of scale; the minimum economic size of a refuse collection round is one that keeps one crew and one vehicle fully employed and further savings from running 1,000 are marginal. So a perfect local service.
It was, of course, the EU that distorted the whole thing to the great cost of British householders. First with recycling targets, and then with landfill reduction targets. Recycling targets have pretty well doubled collection costs - to collect separate waste streams you need pretty well twice as many vehicles and crews for the same overall mass of refuse. Or you need to halve collection frequency with the same fleet. Landfill targets have hit disposal costs with the imposition of a punitive landfill tax. The offsetting income from the sale of recycled material has been minimal, and certainly hasn't covered the increased collection and disposal costs.
The positive externalities, the environmental benefits, simply don't stack up. Firstly, there's absolutely no shortage of landfill in the UK. Secondly, much of the waste collected as 'recyclable' isn't. It's either too contaminated or too poor quality to be sold, or there's no market for it, or even that (councils being institutionally dim-witted) it actually degrades the environment. Councils converting collected garden waste to compost, for example, in open windrowed heaps are actually causing 16x more dangerous greenhouse gas (methane) to be emitted than had the householder burned it on a back-garden bonfire (CO2). So massive volumes of 'recyclable' material actually ends up in landfill. The only reason it's collected is that the EU counts the %age of recyclable waste collected, not the %age of waste recycled. Once you've collected your target, you can tick the box and dump it to landfill.
Let's hope for a long, hot, sweltering Summer with several 'Unite' strikes thrown in; as putrescent waste rots into a heaving mass of maggots and stench in the fortnightly wheely bins and overflowing waste spills fox-strewn across the footways with used nappies stuck to the soles of householders' trainers and black clouds of bluebottles filling every kitchen. Only then will the real impact of the EU on ordinary lives be apparent.
*I once sat in an Edinburgh tea room to overhear two elderly Morningside ladies discussing whether they were getting enough 'blaeck sex'. After spluttering my coffee I worked out they were not discussing ebony lovin'.