Downing Street has been accused of halting plans for a 'pay as you throw' bin tax in a bid to avoid further criticism.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was expected to give the go-ahead today to local councils to impose charges on ordinary household rubbish as an incentive for households to recycle.
The plans had been bitterly opposed by the Conservatives, who accused the government of hitting families with "stealth taxes".
Former environment secretary David Miliband launched a consultation on the issue in May, with respondents coming out in favour of charging households who fail to recycle.
According to reports, staff at Defra were yesterday preparing a statement for Hilary Benn, in which he would publicly back councils in taxing wasteful households.
However, the officials were told at 6pm the plans would be put on hold, with the BBC claiming a rift between Downing Street and Whitehall.
Gordon Brown is reportedly worried about the impact charges would have on large families, who claim they cannot help producing a larger than average volume of waste, and the practicalities of imposing bin charges.
The so-called bin tax was expected to receive a hostile reaction from middle England, which Mr Brown is eager to court to win back support from the Conservative party.
Eric Pickles, shadow local government secretary, said the prime minister appeared to have caved in to opposition.
Mr Pickles said: "It is extraordinarily that only [yesterday] Defra released a document heaping praise on these bin taxes.
"At the very least, this is evidence of chaos and confusion at the heart of government."
Under European law, the UK must reduce the amount of rubbish it throws away. The EU landfill directive set targets for a 25 per cent cut (on 1995 levels) in biodegradable municipal waste thrown into landfills by 2010, with the aim of a 65 per cent cut by 2020.