Not Fit for Purpose


Cllr Gary Cowan and council waste boss Peter Baveystock proudly show off their new stealth tax wheeze- the green waste bins.

We’re on the eve of the local elections now, and as it’s almost alarming that it’s here so quickly. This has been an exciting election campaign, charged by the fact that people have a fair amount that they want to discuss with the candidates who come to talk to them.

By far the most popular subject is the new rubbish scheme, and I’m afraid the vast, overwhelming majority has not been positive. On the whole, single people and couples without children have no real problem with the scheme, whilst families with children are finding it impractical and unmanageable.

What’s become clear is that this is not simply teething problems. Yes, the execution has been awful. Bags the wrong size have been distributed, they have been carelessly left on doorsteps and stolen, and more than a month into the scheme there are still residents who haven’t received bags.

But the problems with the scheme run deeper than that. I have found myself largely focusing on the blue bags, but the green waste scheme is just as flawed. What was previously a free service now costs £60 (per year) for a brown bin or £1 each for individual compostable bin bags. 5,000 have reportedly signed up for the bins, which is much less than the council expected and has resulted in them halving the number of bins that they’ve ordered- from 10,000 to 20,000.

Let’s look at the money in this for a moment. With 5,000 bins sold at £60 each, the council have already received £300,000. Now, if we take away the cost to the council for each bin (which, after the local budget, we now know is a mere £25) and we get £175,000 profit. An extra £175k to plug the gap in finances created by a smoke-and-mirrors council tax freeze, by paying for a service which was previously paid for by that same council tax. 2,000 bags have been reportedly sold, so that’s £2,000 minus the 15p-per-bag cost to the council: £1,700. So that’s £176,700 made out of the scheme in the first month alone.

And this is just the first year. The charge is annual, but the bins are (I believe) for life. So whilst the first month of the scheme this year has raised £175k, if the same people renew their participation in the scheme next year the council will make the full £300k as profit. I defy anyone to explain to me how this isn’t a stealth tax.

Aside from that, there are the bin bags themselves. “Compostable” might work well as a buzz word, but as Jonny Vaughan pointed out you’re still creating something to be instantly disposed of. And given that they’re compostable, they will fall apart readily. I wonder what all this rain has been doing to them…

Finally, I’ll close with something else I’ve found. Three Mile Cross Info (a blog belonging to a resident of Three Mile Cross village) has posted a letter from the council, which seems to indicate that they are rethinking the legality (questionable at best) of the scheme.

…we have agreed that there will be a review of the collection services in the next few weeks and until then our contractors have been told to accept refuse in any form of plastic bag.

A review, in the next few weeks. Conveniently, just after the election. So here’s where your vote tomorrow counts. If Conservative candidates are returned on mass across the borough, the council will descend back below the parapets to ignore you all until 2014. The only way of smoking them out and making them listen is to hit them where it hurts: and elect non-Tory candidates.

Do not underestimate how much your vote tomorrow will count.

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3 comments

  1. Wait… what?! Theres an election going on!? When!?!? I haven’t received a single flyer,leaflet or any candidates coming knocking on the door. Pretty poor display all round. No Matthew you aren’t in my area so wouldn’t expect you popping along and not directed at you.

    Green waste is not a statutory requirement and you have to see it as a bonus that it has been free since it was introduced 5 years ago. I think the waste changes have been a good idea as it has made us think about waste and we have cut down alternating between one and two bags week by week, family of four with pets and recycling the same amount each week as we previously did fortnightly. People need to account for their waste.

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    1. Hi James, thanks for reading and commenting. The election is tomorrow (3rd May) — out of curiosity may I ask which ward you’re in?

      I agree that people need to account for their waste, and I’ve said before that I support the aim of reducing landfill. The main problem with the new scheme is that it doesn’t introduce an alternative for those who are already being responsible and yet by circumstances are restricted by the new limitation. Although the council are proudly trumpeting the weekly recycling collection, the range of materials which they will accept are unchanged, so there can be no “extra” recycling for those already using the scheme- the same amount of recycling will just be collected more frequently. Also, in comparison to neighbouring authorities, the range of materials that Wokingham recycles is pitiful. Look at West Berks, or South Oxfordshire.

      As far as the green waste goes, I’m aware it’s not a statutory right, but in my conversations with the DCLG and DEFRA they have been adamant that councils should not be introducing charges for previously free services. They won’t comment on individual councils, but it’s pretty clear cut. And I worry that these new charges and limitations will simply result in more fly-tipping. I expect to see a spike in the number of incidents as the year wears on. It’s happened in other places where similar schemes have been introduced, and by their own admission Wokingham have prepared no contingencies to deal with this likelihood.

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      1. Thanks for the reply Mathew. Sorry I couldn’t reply till now.

        My ward is Wescott. While my post was slightly sarcastic as you have covered the upcoming election quite a bit (as have others), I feel that if I didn’t have internet access and check certain sites I might have missed this as I had forgotten all about my polling card from when it came.

        Hmm, You have a point that it is limited but people can only work with the resources they have at there disposal. Most of the issues are with the companies and the packaging that they use but government will always choose the easier softer option and pick on the tax payer rather than try to get the big companies to change. More recycling centres should be created in the UK which can take a wider variety of packaging especially plastics. Less waste would then go to landfill.

        From what I have seen and heard from around where I live (and even further a field) the waste changes have forced a lot of people who have never recycled into getting a black box and recycling rather than just throwing everything in the bin. It has forced those into action, but as you say those that already do everything they can have no extra incentive.

        (Heck if it was possible I would love criminals with high sentances sifting through the rubbish sent to landfill removing objects that shouldn’t be there (Electrical, recyclable, materials, etc) but that would never happen due to ‘human rights’ laws. I am sure that would deter a lot of crime compared with the soft punishment we are now left with… but am getting off track)

        Green waste was only introduced a few years ago and the service wasn’t there before. It wasn’t covered by council tax and the money would have come from elsewhere. I think the DCLG and DEFRA are talking more about services councils HAVE to provide. WBC now provide residents with there own bags and possibility to obtain more whereas previously had to purchase own. There not as large as they say but is only a bag or 2 different to wheelie bins in volume and collected weekly still, and can be collected from dustbins so the point about spillage is void. Black bags have the same possibility to be torn or split. Other councils have set bags at only 52 per year no possibility for extra, however they also provide means to remove food waste. (To be honest I think the best waste services are in Asia, where they have food waste, recyclable, burnable, non burnable waste collected but i am sure residents here would complain that its too much work and responsibility for them and why should they do it).

        If you have a garden then there is no excuse and you really should be home composting. Grass will soon break down in a composter and can put food scraps, leaves, twigs, etc in there as well. The council have also made paper bags available for those who only do gardening sparsely or to share a wheelie bin with the costs covering collection and that this service now covers the whole Borough rather than the 80% it did before. Its an opt in service much like satellite TV, which is good because we never used the green bags previously (they are great for use in the garden though and sit well in the car for shopping) and don’t need the new service as we have two compost heaps. The issue that arises is that they now use more petrol traveling the Borough searching for wheelie bins and garden sacks…. not an efficient way of managing things.

        I am pretty sure that anyone with an ounce of common sense will be able to foresee that this will increase fly-tipping, but at the same time that is a criminal act which could occur a fine. Even comments on getwokingham have been pretty childish and pathetic with hiding non recyclable objects in cereal boxes. It’s like a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get there own way. We will have to see how much fly-tipping increases and i am sure that a freedom of information request to the council will reveal exact figures, but this needs to be done after a certain amount of time to reflect a fair representation of the figures.

        Sure there are positives as well as negatives and many people are skeptical to change, but lets just hope that the changes this year are a base and are worked on in future years to improve and rectify the issues that have been raised by residents (so long as its for the majority and not just for individual problems)

        Ok I wrote way more than I intended, thanks for those who took the time to read it all…

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