The Plastic Hippo

September 18, 2010

Waste not want not

Filed under: Environment,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 8:24 pm

Regular readers of this humble blog might wish to take a seat, pour a stiff drink and, for those of a nervous disposition, have a cardiac arrest crash team standing by. Walsall council appear to have got something right.

Council leaflets are plopping through letter boxes across the borough informing residents of the revised bin collection service. Some neighbourhoods will suffer the inconvenience of a change in collection day but the council leaflet contains a calender which clearly sets out when the grey, green and brown bins will be emptied subject, of course, to winter weather conditions. Along with the leaflet are useful stickers for the three bins showing the collection day. Clearly some thought has gone into the collection timetable as the brown bin garden waste collection will be suspended during and after the Christmas period and the green recycling bins will be emptied weekly. Hopefully this will avoid some of the chaos endured last winter when bins in some areas were not emptied for eight weeks and the council are to be congratulated for employing some joined up thinking.

Furthermore, the council have announced an initiative to replace some of the ageing green bins free of charge. So far, so good and credit should be given where credit is due. However, it is an indication of the performance of Walsall council that this humble blog should be moved to congratulate it for managing to provide a basic level of service and, as with everything that Walsall council does, there is more to this than meets the eye.

Cabinet have approved a revised Waste Collection Policy which, according to the council website, will “help build on the council’s outstanding recycling performance”. The new policy will also address the problems of bins left out on footpaths for “long periods”, contamination, extra bags of rubbish on the street and overflowing bins. The council statement claims:

“The existing policy does allow enforcement action to be taken in exceptional circumstances but this has never been implemented. The council’s policy is to resolve issues directly with residents which has proved successful over the years and this approach will continue if the revised policy is approved by Cabinet.”

Indeed Councillor Anthony Harris, portfolio holder for Leisure, Culture and Environment, said: “Our approach has always been to try and resolve any problems through communication with residents and this will continue to be the way forward for us.”

However, the bulk of the now approved policy is taken up with the details of “enforcement” and those details make dull, but illuminating reading. Residents now have a list of instructions which have, so far, not been given prominence on the council website. The instructions are there, but as with most of the council website, which is about as navigable as an Algerian Souk, finding the document can prove difficult. So, in the interest of public information, this humble blog offers a quick overview.

Bins must be placed at the edge of a residential property before 7-30am on the day of collection and not before 6-00pm on the evening prior to collection. Householders must return their bins to their property no later than 10-00pm on the day of collection. The report reminds people that blocking the highway and, in legal terms, the pavement, is a criminal offence. Householders are “entitled” to 140 litres of rubbish per week. Extra bags left at the side of the bin will not be collected, the lid of the bin has to be fully closed and each bin should only contain the correct category of refuse.

All this sounds perfectly reasonable, but failure to comply with the instructions will result not in the successful approach of communication as advocated by Councillor Harris, but with locally set fines and possible court action. By employing section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) of 1990, Walsall council will issue letters of warning to transgressing householders which, if ignored, will result in a Fixed Penalty Notice and a fine of between £75 and £110. Should, for any reason, the fine not be paid, the council can then prosecute the offender which could result in a summary conviction and a fine not exceeding £1000. Strangely, this new tactic is not mentioned in the council leaflet.

The revised Waste Collection Policy raises a number of questions, not least the issue of policing and enforcement. Presumably, it will be left to individual bin collectors to judge whether a bin has been presented correctly, has not been contaminated with the wrong sort of waste and is on the street within the time-scale as dictated in the policy. Bin collection is not a metaphorical “dirty job”, it is, by definition, a real dirty job. Rising at some ungodly hour, the operatives face rats, all manner of creepy-crawlies, irate residents and angry motorists who, delayed on the way to a nice clean office, sound horns and hurl abuse at people who are providing a vital service for very little pay or, indeed, appreciation. Given the already break-neck collection schedule, which does not allow the time to return emptied bins to the position that the council demands of its residents, the new policy offers no indication of how much extra work will be expected from the folks who do our dirty work.

Councillor Harris was not present at the cabinet meeting that discussed the document that bore his signature. Perhaps his absence was the result of needing to retrieve his bins before the new 10-00pm curfew. It is, after all, best to lead by example.



  1. the bin collection has always been one of the best in the west mids but the enforcement stuff, is well totally unenforceable as you said. Luckily around here the neighbours put each others away.

    Comment by ianrobo — September 19, 2010 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  2. Perhaps all the ex car clampers could now become bin clampers. Traffic wardens could double up as bin wardens. Neighbourhood Watch could keep an eye out for suspect bin practices. Ah, the much heralded “bin society”.

    Comment by hapdaniel — September 19, 2010 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

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