Saturday, 1 October 2011

Weekly Refuse Collections

Despite the austerity measures we currently face, the government has miraculously found £250 million to encourage local authorities to reinstate weekly refuse collections in England.

There is, apparently, a huge public outcry about the change to fortnightly collections. Certain parts of the press have been stirring up scare stories about rubbish piling up on our streets for weeks, giving off bad smells and attracting vermin. Not only is a concern, it is also an election issue according to the Daily Mail.

Many years ago, our council changed from twice weekly collections to weekly collections and similar stories were spun but were never realised. At that time the bins were changed from small metal bins that the bin men carried to the truck and emptied to larger bins with single use removable liners, starting a trend of producing plastic bags with a single use-putting it in the bin.

I don't know the details of individual fortnightly bin collections around England, but the new fortnightly system in Glasgow gives people a greater awareness of the amount of waste that they generate. Combine this with the greater variety of material that can now be recycled and people are forced to be more careful about maximising their recycling. And so far I haven't noticed a pong nor seen any rats (of the four legged variety at least).This can only be a good thing.

Some people may find this heightened awareness uncomfortable - forced to accept that they are part of the problem and that it isn't just other people to blame. Then there is the extra effort required to separate their waste. Why, when it can just be buried and forgotten about? Is this the real story, uncomfortable truths that readers of the newspapers wouldn't pay to read? Or are people happy to do their bit and it is only the papers looking for something easy to fill column inches?

There is as very real concern that returning to weekly collections will be a step backwards, leading to more waste to landfill and less recycling, combined with increase fuel use for the extra collections. There is also the issue of where the money will come from, or what else it could be spent on to better effect.

If the government did have a spare £250 million lying around to spend on the environment, it could spend it on cavity wall and loft insulation for half a million homes (based on Energy Saving Trust cost estimates) lifting them out of fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.  If part of the associated energy saving is then used to insulate further homes then a significant reduction could be made to the estimated seven million households in fuel poverty in the UK.

Unfortunately, the reality is that those in most need of help to escape fuel poverty are those least likely to vote Conservative, while those that grumble about having to sort the recycling could be persuaded.  

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