About 14,000 homes out of more than 124,000 in Wearside have signed up for the new paid-for garden waste collection service, the Echo can reveal.
Sunderland City Council will now charge households £25 a year for 17 brown bin collections between March and November, in a move that could save the authority about £800,000 a year.
This confirms our worst fears – that the vast majority of people wouldn’t pay the £25 brown bin tax.Liberal Democrat Niall Hodson
The charge has sparked a political war of words between the city’s ruling Labour party and its Liberal Democrat opponents.
Figures obtained by Sunderland Lib Dems under the Freedom of Information Act show the council has spent £27,404 printing and posting letters to 91,000 homes in the city to inform then they will have to pay for the service if they want it to continue.
The request for details also found that, as of February 1, some 8,657 households had paid the charge, which equates to 9.5% of those who have a brown bin.
But the authority has said that sign-up figure has since risen to 14,000, with further requests still being received.
The Lib Dems have said they fear a low take-up will lead to garden waste being sent to landfill or dumped in back lanes.
Party member Niall Hodson said: “In the last year, 88,000 to 91,000 of households in the city had brown bins that were being collected.
“The council figures are no cause for celebration.
“When the charge was announced by the council in October last year, a Sunderland Echo poll found that 89% of residents said they would not pay the charge.
“Yet the actual figures show that take-up is even worse.
“This confirms our worst fears – that the vast majority of people wouldn’t pay the £25 brown bin tax.
“Sunderland already has one of the worst recycling rates in the country – this shambles of a brown bin charge only looks set to make things worse.
“Doing the right thing for the environment shouldn’t be a luxury available only to people who are able to pay the extra £25 brown bin tax.”
Meg Crosby, a campaigner for the party in the Herrington and Farringdon areas, added: “As a keen gardener, I am disappointed that the council has, in effect, imposed a “garden tax” on those Sunderland residents lucky enough to have a green space.
“When this measure was imposed in Birmingham, abandoned bin bags filled with hedge trimmings and grass cuttings appeared across their city, and huge peak-time queues were reported at household refuse sites.”
Councillor Michael Mordey, cabinet member for city services, said: “Here we are again with the Liberal Democrats playing fast and loose with the truth in order to score a political point and failing miserably at it.
“One thing that is always consistent with the Lib Dems is that they always get their facts completely wrong. The truth of the matter is that more than 14,000 households have signed up for the new garden waste service, with hundreds of new requests coming in each week.
“I would like to thank the Liberal Democrats for giving me this opportunity to thank those residents that have already signed up for the new service and to remind those that haven’t, that if they wish to, there is still time to sign up and receive all 17 collections.”
To sign up for collections, and pay using a debit or credit card, go to www.sunderland.gov.uk/gardenwaste or call (0191) 520 5550.
Lines are open 8am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday.