A CONTROVERSIAL switch from weekly to fortnightly bin collections would increase recycling rates and reduce costs, according to experts in Southampton.

City residents currently see their household waste taken away every seven days – a system campaigners have fiercely defended.

But an investigation by scientists at the University of Southampton has found that recycling rates can rise by nine per cent in areas with so-called alternate weekly collection (AWC) systems.

The study also found that the cost of collecting rubbish was lower when recyclables and household waste were taken away fortnightly and on alternate weeks. Experts monitored the effects of a switch-over for three months during a trial in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

They examined factors such as the frequency of collection, type of container, household participation and productivity levels.

The experts said along with a boost for recycling, there was “no obvious adverse impacts” on public health or the local environment when the authorities switched to AWC.

But critics have slammed the findings – saying it is clear from anecdotal evidence that fortnightly collections lead to increases in pests. Doretta Cocks, from Chandler’s Ford, founded the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collections in 2004. She said: “Many people contact me about fortnightly bin collections – it affects their quality of life.

I hear horror stories – people get hundreds of maggots in their bins, they get carpets of maggots on their driveways and pavements.”

The findings come just months after Southampton City Council saw its weekly bin rounds saved by an £8m Government windfall. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles handed the city the cash to secure the cherished service for the next five years.

But Professor Ian Williams, from the university’s Centre for Environmental Sciences, said his findings would be “embarrassing” for the Government.

He said: “This study has clearly shown that the adoption of an AWC scheme positively impacted on recycling rates and household behaviour, with no obvious adverse impacts on public participation, household waste arising, public health or the local environment.

“The findings are embarrassing for Mr Pickles and the Government, as it highlights that their current policies are at odds with the evidence.”

The city council’s environment boss, Councillor Asa Thorpe, said work was being undertaken to increase recycling rates, while sticking with weekly collections.

He said: “It does have an impact on recycling. But we’re introducing glass recycling and there are a number of educational projects we’ll be undertaking to increase recycling.

“Weekly bin collections were a promise we made in our manifesto.

We have listened to people who were saying to us on the doorstep that they would like to keep weekly bin collections.”

Union bosses have also urged the council to stick to the weekly system to protect jobs.

Unison regional organiser Andy Straker said: “It does generally mean job losses – up to about a third because they don’t need the same amount of staff.

“I think most people want a weekly bin collection. The fact is when you switch to fortnightly collections you have got to keep that rubbish for an extra week.

In the summer, whether you like it or not, what’s in that bin is rotting. There’s a health issue whether experts want to admit it or not.”

More than half the local authorities in England and Wales currently operate alternate weekly collections.

In 2003, the then Liberal Democrat-run Southampton City Council tried fortnightly collections of household waste across a quarter of the city’s homes but dropped it a year later after 3,600 residents signed a Daily Echo-backed petition demanding a rethink.