Blue topped dry recycling bins are currently being rolled out across the borough, ahead of the start of a new waste collection regime in October 2011. In a nutshell, residents will now have three bins, a green one for organic waste such as food and garden (weekly), a blue one for dry recyclables such as plastics and newspaper (to replace the green box, but now fortnightly), and the grey one to continue for non-recyclable or non-compostable material that has to go to landfill (but alternate fortnightly).
Whilst many residents will have missed the past "consultation" period and may be caught unawares about the changes, there has been comment and formal representation to the Council from the likes of Brent Friends of the Earth before now. They have raised important concerns about the pitfalls of commingling waste, the risk of adverse working conditions for labourers further downstream and, of course, the lack of quality of the consultation (no surprise with Brent council - expose of managerial style).
There is clearly an argument in favour of reducing landfill (grey bin collection will move to fortnightly) and increasing provision for recycling. However, even if all this can be reconciled to, Brent appears to have failed to conform to its own commitment on the provision of the new bins.
In the St Andrews conservation area of Welsh Harp ward, residents have received only one blue bin per two households. Unfortunately, this is not compliant with the Council's own stipulations - that residents will only have to share bins if "living in converted properties" or already sharing bins. Neither of these conditions hold in the case of these streets of which mine forms a part. The maisonettes are purpose-built (one of the features contributing to conservation status) and the boxes these bins are supposed to be replacing in part, are not already shared.
There is definitely an argument to be had about reducing the number of bins overall, as these can contribute to street clutter on collection days and also represent a material cost themselves (see excellent overview by my colleague Martin Francis). However, this argument has not been made by the Council. Moreover, as one of the main services relied upon by local ratepayers, there is clearly a quasi-judicial assumption to be had, that services will remain equitable for all, per household.
So, whilst there may be a case for having neighbours sharing bins, this would have to be on a sufficent criterion, not an arbitrary one. Otherwise ratepayers will find themselves receiving half the level of collection (volume per household) depending on where they happen to live in the borough, without explanation. This may be of overall benefit to the planet, but this should not be imposed upon some ratepayers but not others. Collective actions work best when everybody plays their part equally, can be encouraged to do so, and without having extra burdens imposed upon some only. Unless, of course, the Council would like to offer those households sharing blue bins a rebate.
Unless ... of course, the Council has an addtional motive, to use the rolling out of bins, also to reduce the number of overall collections it has to make. No doubt, some legitmate savings can be made on that score, but only up to a point. Where the commitment has been made for bins to be replaced, like for like - not one for every two households, but one each - any departure from that would constitute inequtiable provision. Like ratepayer; like service provision.
One further legalistic consideration. Brent is keen to mention its powers under Section 46 of the EPA 1990 (environmental protection act) to decide collections strategy. However, enforcement of its powers would become doubly difficult if the Council were unable to determine liability by any resident for contamination of the waste stream - for example, where households have had a shared bin imposed upon them for like cost.
I am soliciting feedback from both the neighbours and the Council about this.