MOVES to bring back free garden waste collections must be "fully funded", town halls have warned as figures show two thirds of councils now charge for the service.

The Government's new waste strategy has promised to consult on whether the millions of English households with gardens should have access to free collections of their grass cuttings, twigs, plant and hedge clippings.

Composting garden waste could cut carbon emissions, avoid landfill costs and generate extra revenue from producing compost, the strategy says.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said any changes to waste services that put more of a cost burden on councils already under huge financial pressure need to be fully funded.

In Blackburn with Darwen, people pay an annual £30 fee for the garden waste brown bin collection scheme, with a £5 discount for anyone signing up early.

Hyndburn and Burnley residents are also charged £30, as are people living in Pendle.

But garden waste collection remains free for residents in Ribble Valley, while people in Rossendale are charged £35.

The warning comes as research shows that, of 326 English councils which pick up rubbish and recycling from homes, 212 of them (65 per cent) charge for a garden waste collection service.

Most of those who charge ask for an annual subscription for picking up a garden waste bin or bags, with yearly costs averaging around £46, the research shows.

Despite the charges, councils across England say they have thousands of households signed up - and some even have fully subscribed services.

A comparison of today's figures with previous Press Association research also suggests some 17 councils have introduced charges in the last 18 months or are doing so this year.

Martin Tett, environment spokesman for the LGA, said: "Some councils were able to provide free garden waste services when they were first introduced but are now having to charge to reflect the growing cost of providing a collection service.

"Money from garden waste collection charges goes back into maintaining the service."

And he warned: "Any changes to waste services and additional cost burdens on councils, who are already under enormous financial pressure, need to be fully funded."

He also said councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 between 2010 and 2020, and it was "vital" the forthcoming Government spending review fully funded the local services communities relied on.

A spokesman for the Environment Department said: "Free garden waste collections would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions through less garden waste being sent to landfill, but would also see more waste composted, which is cheaper for local authorities than landfill disposal.

"Subject to consultation, we intend to have free garden waste collections in place from 2023, with councils being funded appropriately to deliver this."