Posted by: talkjack | June 15, 2008

Coventry Council’s rubbish service

A view on the rubbish (refuse) collection service provided by Coventry Council.

Over the last couple of years, many other UK councils have been cutting their rubbish collection service to fortnightly. Naturally they object to the use of the word ‘fortnightly’; in the media I have seen them deny this and claim instead that it is a ‘bi-weekly’ collection service. WTF is the difference? Both terms mean once every two weeks. Are they trying to confuse people with doublespeak?

This ‘bi-weekly’ collection of rubbish in other cities has indeed caused health and safety problems. A TV news report showed residents in Oxford suffering a plague of rats caused by uncollected rubbish hanging around for two weeks in the street. The council’s response was to threaten fines for people putting their rubbish bags into the street until the day it is due to be collected. This will of course mean that the vermin will be infesting people’s homes instead of the street, so problem solved then, plus more income from fines to the Council.

The press are constantly referring to 21st century life in Britain as ‘Rip-off Britain’ and ‘A Nanny State’. I personally think the phrase ‘A Bully State’ is becoming truer every year. Judge for yourself.

In Coventry we are blessed (so far) by a Council which has not adopted the widely reviled practice of bi-weekly rubbish collections. This is largely due to Coventry having an incinerator which produces electricity from burning rubbish, and is therefore a source of income for the Council. I am in favour of this because it means we are burning less fossil fuel to provide electricity. (As a side thought, isn’t it funny that I have never seen any Councillor stating in their election promises that they will reduce the frequency of rubbish collections? Odd that! Plus is it cynical or realistic to think that Councillors tend to implement unpopular changes like this shortly after an election, to give the public the longest possible time to forget them before the next election?)

In Coventry, residents have to ‘recycle’ their waste into different containers for the council to collect. My objection is to their misuse of the word ‘recycle’. In truth, residents are not recycling, they are ‘sorting’. It is the council which does the actual recycling once they take the rubbish away. In other countries, the authorities use machinery to do the sorting. Here the councils use unpaid, untrained residents to do the sorting.

I read in the local newspaper that Coventry Council employs staff whose duties include spying on the rubbish being thrown out by residents. I think the figure was in the region of 70+ people. Woe betide anyone who puts, for example, a cardboard fruit juice carton into the cardboard and paper recycling box. Because then ‘you have contaminated the load’. Apparently the Council may have to abandon recycling the whole batch because of your contamination. Why, you might ask? Because the carton is lined on the inside with something other than cardboard, so it has to be recycled differently.

Duh, like how is a normal person supposed to know how every single item of domestic waste needs to be sorted for recycling? As I said, we are untrained and unpaid. The instructions printed on my wheelie bin say ‘no hot ashes’, which I understand and obey. I am not a recycling expert trained in the sorting of every raw recycling material in the country.

What if I cut my hand whilst removing the paper from a jaggedly opened food tin can, or while washing all traces of the food out of the can, to ‘avoid contaminating the load’ before I sort the can into the correct container and put it out on the correct collection day? I have no protective gear, and am bound to slip occasionally. This is a genuine health and safety hazard which the authorities appear to ignore. The elderly and inform in particular are at risk from slips, cuts and sorting mistakes.

All the more reason to stop this practice of confusing the words ‘sorting’ and recycling’.  This is a persuasion technique to convince the public to do the Council’s job for them. After all, I pay the equivalent of a whole month’s income each year in the form of Council Tax, and the only tangible service I actually see is the weekly rubbish collection. This is a prime example of ‘Rip-off Britain’.

Would you expect Councils to be sympathetic when someone makes a mistake when sorting and putting out you rubbish? They certainly appear to be the opposite. If your bin lid is raised by so much as an inch, then binmen can refuse to empty it and just leave it sitting full in the street. If a Council ‘spy’ searched through your litter bin and finds an incorrectly sorted item then they can refuse to empty your bin. They also threaten you with a fine if you do it again, and if you persist over time manage to incorrectly sort litter according to their confusing rules then the Council threaten to never collect your rubbish again. (But they will have oppressively collected fines from you in the process, and make you feel like a criminal.)

This is an example of Britain turning into a Bully State. Instead of spending money on efficient recycling equipment, choose to force the public to do the sorting for you. Employ a team of staff to secretly spy on people’s rubbish and issue threats and fines to raise revenue instead. I guess it makes good financial sense – turn a cost into a profit. Sod the members of the public who are actually paying for a service they are increasingly being forced to perform for themselves. Can I have half my Council Tax back please?

My though is simple. Spend the income earned from burning litter to generate electricity on the machinery to do the sorting properly. Sack the council litter spies, because it feels like Britain is turning into a fascist authoritarian state. We are the most spied upon people in the world due to the draconian use of electronic and other surveillance. Instead, employ helpful staff to do the sorting. Do not mislead the public into thinking they are ‘recycling’ when all they are really doing is sorting. Let’s make Britain a better place to live.

When forming your own opinion on the subject of litter collection, bear this in mind: On collection day or permanently, the majority of UK wheelie bins are left in places accessible to any passerby. Bins have no locks or security (but many have hidden microchips inside to spy on what you throw away). There is no protection to prevent anyone whatsoever from putting any type of rubbish into any of your bins. I personally find beer cans or other litter in my wheelie bin every other week. This week it was an apple core. If I am accused by a ‘litter spy’ of mis-sorting my rubbish, how on earth can I prove my innocence? It was supposed to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but I would risk having to pay court costs to prove that, so many people just pay the fine.

Let’s not mislead the public about recycling any more. A real life example of recycling is when I dismantled a broken outdoor electrical light fitting yesterday and used the spare parts to repair my speaker system. That is true recycling folks!

(c) Copyright Talkjack 2009

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