Friday, 12 August 2011

The Cost of Nothing

My local council collects what they call green waste.  You get given a special green wheelie-bin, and once a fortnight a Vulture comes round and empties it.  They take the waste away, process it and compost it, and you can go up to the depot and buy nice bags of good organic peat-free compost at a very reasonable price.

Last March, everybody received a letter informing us that, from April, the council could no longer provide the free green bin service, and felt obliged to make an annual collection charge of £21.50.  Invoices for this amount would be issued during April.  We could, of course, opt out, but would have to make our own arrangements for disposal of our green waste.  Amazingly, some people chose that course, evidently calculating that the cost of the petrol needed to take it up to the tip for a year, plus the plastic bags and their own time, would amount to less than £21.50.  But most of us shook our heads in wry amusement and took the hit.

I personally thought this was an admirable scheme, fully in accordance with the spirit of modern economics.  It was rather like a sub-prime mortgage - in which you sell somebody something and then take it away from them, charging them for the privilege - in reverse.

Anyway, April came and went, and no invoices appeared.  For some reason, nobody seemed particularly surprised, and indeed most of us had more or less forgotten about it.  The bins continued to get emptied.  And then, early in May, there were some local elections, and the balance of power in my council changed.  'Ah-ha', we thought.  The first duty of a new government is of course to do its best to undo everything the previous one did. 

Sure enough, this morning the green bin collection team came down the road as usual, emptied the bins and delivered a letter, from the Interim Director of Environment Culture and Sport no less, to each house.  The Interim Director apologised for the delay in updating us, but was pleased to announce that it had been decided to 'abandon' this charge.  To quote:

'This means garden waste collections will remain free ...  If you told us at the time that you were not willing to pay the new charges you can still place your bin out for collection.'  And anyone who was nutty enough (there were some, apparently) to pay the £21.50 in advance will get a refund, in due course.

Without wishing to labour the point, I can't help wondering what the full cost was of this exercise in doing precisely nothing.


  1. hi just found you through letouttoplay

    Our local council also collects garden waste once a fortnight. Several years ago each household was issued with two large green woven bags with handles. These are to be put out on the allotted morning (the same day as our recycle collection).
    This is fine but if your sacks are emptied early in the day whilst you are at work there is no guarantee you will find them at the end of the day.
    These sacks do seem to grow legs during the hours of absence. I find that a trip to the tip myself is not too painful and I know I can keep hold of the sacks and combine the trip with an opportunity to cast away other unwanted items.

    The cost of the exercise for your council would have been considerable if you include labour for typing up the letters, printing them out as well as the expenses incurred by the councillors whilst debating the pros and cons of the scheme at the very least.

  2. Our green bins cost £36 pa. But they're not green but brown as general waste had already used green bins. It's all very confusing.

  3. Yes, like Rog, our "green" bins are brown & our "other stuff" bins are dark green.
    Not what you want to have to think about on a Monday morning, let alone a Sunday evening. And try to remember which it was last week to boot.
    But at least they are (currently) "free" (at point of collection).

  4. My green bin is green. But my red one, for recycling, is grey (like the landfill one), but with a sticker on it effectively saying 'this bin is red'. In a neighbouring borough, red bins are blue.
    It's a good job dustmen, unlike policemen or travelling salesmen, don't have to regularly relocate for work.
    Hi Anna, welcome! At least you can't fall inside your sacks ...

  5. We have a compost heap. What can't be composted (perennial weeds, branches and so on) is burnt.

    However, the compostable waste bins are brown and the recyclable material bins are green, and the general waste bins are black. A mile away, the bins are blue, black and green, though I don't know what they're for. I do know that cans have to be crushed, but here cans must not be crushed. Each area has a different list of permitted plastics.

  6. So, which bin do I put dead animals into? My neighbour once asked me to dispose of a fox which had expired on her patio. It wasn't much fun. And I think there's a pigeon corpse somewhere in the shrubbery.

  7. In the days when we had cats which caught birds they were wrapped, disguised as little parcels, complete with sellotape, and put in the household rubbish bin, now a Red-top. That was after garden plots filled up.
    Recycling of all kinds goes mixed up in the Blue-top and green waste goes in Green or Yellow-tops. Cats [eight], rabbits [two]and white mice [many], go decently buried somewhere wrapped in their blankets. Well, not the mice. Years ago next door they buried a large retriever and I have not been brave enough to tell subsequent neighbours. On the other side they buried a whole concrete deck by the camellia. Just as well we have quarter-acre sections.

  8. We compost everything except disposable nappies, supposedly biodegradable, but what actually biodegrades them is another natural element, fire.

    Can you not just sling stuff over the neighbours' fence?

  9. After a bit of thought I realise that all our recycling bags, boxes and bins are green and our landfill bin is black. And I'm pretty sure they're all free if rather boring.

    I was quite taken with the idea of a Vulture doing the collection.

  10. My bins used to be black, but have turned grey over the years...

    The Vulture is called Dennis. Honest! Have a look next time it comes round.