"I am gravely concerned that councils are being bullied by the Government and its quango bully boys into axing weekly rubbish collections, irrespective of public opinion." -- Eric Pickles, shadow local government minister
"This shows you can have your cake and eat it: weekly rubbish collection and recycling." -- Karl Murdoch, Head of Environment, Three Rivers
"If the supermarkets and the Government take no notice of The Independent's campaign, the next step will be for consumers to unpack goods and leave the package on the counter." -- Alan Simpson MP
The Public Health Act 1875 brought in many things, clean water, sewers, domestic waste collection. We owe more to this legislation in terms of public health, than any intervention by doctors and so-called advances in medicine.
This may explain why there has been such a public outcry at the axing of weekly collection of domestic waste. The public recognise it for what it is, a cut in public services. People pay high council taxes, for which they see very little in return. The basic minimum service they expect from their local council is to have their waste collected on a regular weekly basis. Their gut reaction that this has serious health implications is backed up by the facts, increase in rats, bad smells, bins overrun with maggots, flies, rubbish strewn streets, fly-tipping, back garden burning of rubbish.
The Local Government Association has come out fighting, falsely claiming there are no problems associated with fortnightly collection, and that fortnightly is essential for recycling to improve.
Top of their list is North Kesteven, a rural local authority in Lincolnshire.
It is true that North Kesteven is on fortnightly, but does that explain their good performance. Not according to the person responsible for rubbish collection, who I talked to when I visited North Kesteven early this year. It is not rocket science I was told, they account for their good performance by having a simple system in place and working with the local community, they have also had a long-term commitment in place to recycling dating back over ten years. Compare this with Oxford or the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor where panic measures are being put in place, ie fortnightly waste collection, to meet government and EU targets. For the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, it would be an alien concept to work with the local community.
But who do the LGA represent? Local councils, or in other words, local councillors who are currently running scared of losing their seats. The one group the LGA certainly do not represent, is local communities.
Doretta Cocks, founder of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collections, questioned the timing of the LGA intervention which seemed calculated to influence the local elections, but if that was the case, the intervention by the LGA has spectacularly backfired and only served to highlight the failings and force fortnightly waste collection further up the political agenda.
It is dishonest to claim fortnightly waste collection has anything to do with recycling, it is a slash and burn cut in public services. By linking it to recycling is to give recycling a bad name. Recycling is putting the right rubbish in the right bin, it has nothing to do with how often the rubbish is collected.
This lie is exposed by the fact that some of the best performing local authorities are on weekly, whereas some of the worst are on fortnightly.
The difference between the two groups is a mere seven percentage points, fortnightly manage 30% recycling, weekly 23%. Averages though hide wide variations.
Of the LGA list of top ten performing councils, two, Cotswold in Gloucestershire and Three Rivers in Hertfordshire, are on weekly collection.
Cotswold nearly doubled its recycling rate to 37% and now claims to be recycling 41% of its waste. Three Rivers, achieved more than 40% of rubbish recycled or composted, a 30% increase.
Other notable successes among councils with weekly collections were the London borough of Bexley, which achieved 41.6%, Stratford on Avon 39%, and Bath and North East Somerset 37%.
Wirral, a fortnightly local council, recycles only 11.8% of its waste. An even worse performance than the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor. Between April and July of last year, of the recycled waste collected, 2,175 tonnes of recycled waste was dumped in landfill. Only seven local councils perform worse than Wirral.
In Europe, domestic waste is collected daily or every other day, and they manage quite easily to generate less and recycle more.
Commenting on the LGA figures, not their false interpretation, Tory local government spokesman Eric Pickles said:
"This proves you can have weekly collections and still recycle. I have absolutely no doubt that with imagination and the co-operation of the public you can get good recycling figures and still deliver to the public what they want."
The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor where several thousand households are on a six month 'trial' of fortnightly collection, 30% recycling is claimed compared to a low 20% for the rest of the borough which remains on weekly, but at what cost? Households on fortnightly are already reporting maggots in their bins, unpleasant smells, fly-tipping is on the increase and households are having to make trips to the refuse tip to deposit waste from their otherwise overflowing bins, leading to traffic generation and air pollution. Those on fortnightly are being targetted to encourage greater recycling and the extra attention may account for the improvement. And that is assuming the figures can be trusted, as so far the council has lied about everything else.
Good recycling relies on education, local councils and local communities working together towards a common goal. You do not achieve this by cutting services, worst still cutting services in the complete absence of any public consultation.
Illustrative of the extent to which councils will mislead and the arrogant contempt they have towards the local communities they allegedly represent is shown by Roland Dibbs, deputy leader of the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, the man responsible for forcing several thousand households in Aldershot and Farnborough onto weekly collection, and currently desperately fighting to retain his seat in the May local elections in the face of growing public anger.
Dibbs in his Out of Touch election comic claimed fortnightly would not have been introduced without ascertaining fortnightly caused no problems where it had been introduced. A statement that is blatantly false.
He told his council that fortnightly has proved a success across Hampshire. He neglected to mention that Southampton has been forced by public pressure to go back to weekly, that Basingstoke had second thoughts and has remained weekly, that in neighbouring Hart it is proving to be an unmitigated disaster and highly unpopular, that last summer in nearby Alton back garden burning was a major problem, and within his own borough fly-tipping is on the increase.
Doretta Cocks, an environmental scientist, founder of Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection, who lives in Eastleigh, would beg to differ. Eastleigh has been on fortnightly for three years and it has proved to highly unpopular with local residents, leading to public health problems.
"We have had fortnightly collections of waste for over three years. I have to regularly disinfect my bin and my neighbours have had maggots and rats. When I did a local survey, 85% of 145 people asked wanted a weekly collection."
In election coverage in the local press, Dibbs claimed the council had received only one complaint, that it was not of interest to local people, and of those who have raised it with him, the majority were in favour of fortnightly waste collection. [Farnborough News, Friday 20 April 2007]
That is not the picture I am picking up on the street. I know of at least six people who have complained. I have complained several times to the council chief executive Andrew Lloyd who has not had the courtesy to reply. Everyone I speak to, bar half a dozen, are not only against, they are extremely angry. They also tell me everyone they know or speak to is against and very angry.
The picture Dibbs gives is not one recognised by Labour Party Chairman Hazel Blears who on BBC Radio 4 Any Questions (Friday 27 April 2007) admitted waste collection was a major issue in the local elections. Her fellow panel members agreed.
We are all agreed on the need to reduce waste, increase our abysmal recycling efforts, therefore that is where our priorities should lie, where we should focus our efforts, not on cutting public services, punishing the public, alienating the very people on whose help and support we rely if we are to meet our stated objectives.
If we are to improve our abysmal performance, we have to work with local people, a partnership between local councils and local communities, educate, support, encourage, cajole, but not punish.
People pay enough in Council Tax, a tax that year on year for the last decade has risen twice as fast as inflation. The very minimum service people expect to receive from their local council is to have their rubbish collected on a regular weekly basis.
Householders are not just seeing reductions in service, they are also facing mind-boggling petty on-the-spot fines for bins left out on the wrong day, lid left up, etc etc.
Householders are at the end of the waste chain, they are easy targets to pick on. No one likes to see waste, people do not deliberately create waste, or recycle less. The real culprits are supermarkets and their excess packaging.
If I buy tomatoes off a farmers market, they are locally produced, are superior varieties, taste better, are fresher, are popped straight into a paper bag. If I buy from a supermarket, they are in a plastic box.
I visit a farmers market once a month, a local market once a week when I am able, but in between times I have no choice but a supermarket. Some people lack even that choice, they have no choice but a large supermarket because their towns have been turned into retail deserts.
We therefore have to target supermarkets, whilst at the same time encourage people to shop elsewhere, to make healthier eating choices and to oppose the relentless march of superstores.
Farnborough town centre has been destroyed by a developer who bought the town centre in 1998, laid waste to the town centre, driving out most of the retailers. The local council got into bed with the developer and gave them all they asked for. The end result, if ever built (the town centre now lies derelict) will be a superstore facing out of the town centre, 28 maisonettes, social housing, destroyed for its car park, and bingo above the superstore. People who have the money and the means shop elsewhere- Guildford, Farnham, Alton - anywhere other than Farnborough.
Many examples can be given of excess packaging, apples on a plastic base, shrink wrapped in plastic.
We have to eliminate oil-based plastic as it cannot be recycled, and may as well be dumped in landfill. Paper can be recycled to paper, glass bottles to glass bottles, cans to cans, plastic can only be 'recycled' to low grade products, such as fleece lining, and the process is energy intensive.
Apples can be sold loose. Where an item needs to be boxed, boxed in plastic rather than card, this should be a cellulose 'plastic' derived from plant starch. Items can be on a card base, cellulose 'plastic', both of which can be composted..
If I have strawberries in a cellulose 'plastic' box, I can re-use the 'plastic' box for seedlings, if it has a lid, use it as a propagator, then put it on the compost heap.
The supermarkets are getting worried. Both the Daily Mail and The Independent have launched campaigns against waste, more than 100 Members of Parliament have signed an Early Day Motion, EDM 814, on Waste Reduction, two Private Members Bills are in the pipeline.
The supermarkets are not just getting getting worried, they are starting to panic, but the measures they have taken to date should be seen for what they are, gimmicks to appease the public, a public that is becoming increasingly hostile towards supermarkets, not just on waste, but on predatory pricing, destruction of town centres, treatment of farmers, exploitation of cheap foreign labour.
Asda has asked people to dump unwanted packaging in two of its stores in order that it can raise the matter with its supplies. Gross hypocrisy, as it is Asda that dictates the packaging to the suppliers.
Sainsbury's placed on limited offer an eco-friendly designer bag, a bag that customers were dumb enough to queue round the corner for, a bag that turned out to be neither eco-friendly nor fair trade, manufactured by exploited cheap labour in China.
The Daily Mail has on offer to its readers a shopping bag they claim is fair trade and eco-friendly.
Modbury in Devon has banned plastic bags from its shops.
Why has there only been a handful of prosecutions under the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003? Trading Standards appear to be tuning a blind eye. Ask your local council why. Or do they prefer to bully householders?
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