16 Sept 2011

Brent Dry Recyling Bins: Pay more for less?

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.


  1. I bumped into the company delivering the bins in Wells Road yesterday and a resident was trying to explain that her house needed two bins, one for each flat. The operative said that he had been told one bin per house and I directed her to the Brent Council person supervising the operation.

    The company told me that I could throw my green box away but I had been told by the Council as a result of a query at the Kingsbury Area Forum that they would be collected and recycled. Brent FoE have suggested they could be used as planters.

    However in terms of the appearance of the environment I think 3 bins per household (meaning 6 bins in the garden of purpose built houses forming two households) is a real eyesore. Three bins in front of each narrow-fronted terraced house such as those in Harlesden with tiny or no front garden (as is my own) will block the entrance to houses or the pavement outside. I have seen this elsewhere and the multi-coloured bins dominate the street. For many keeping them out the back and wheeling them through the house on collection day is not an option.

    For myself, now that cardboard goes in the blue dry recycling bin and because I compost garden and vegetable waste - and have nil waste of cooked food, I will do away with my organic green bin.

  2. I was woken early yesterday morning to the sound of my neighbours emptying a load of bottles and cans into their new blue topped wheelie bin. The ones that have cost us £1.7 million.

    This shows that they, most likely along with many residents, hadn't taken in the information leaflets, delivered in apparently unrecyclable plastic packs, outlining that the bins won't be in use until 3rd October.

    Annoyingly it also means that we are all now living next to noisy bottle banks. With no guidance that residents should take care to avoid disturbance late at night or early in the morning - the time when many people tend to remember to put their recycling out. Has Brent even thought this through?

    What's worse is knowing that the broken glass contaminates the dry recyclables, reducing their value, and that the processing required to separate this mixed stream will increase our carbon emissions.

    Brent also missed an opportunity for some joined up thinking for not getting involved in a scheme to help residents grow veg in their green boxes - something that was suggested by residents groups, but not taken up by Officers, other that a little picture in the info booklet. Furthermore it is not clear if and when unwanted green boxes would be collected by the Council.

    Things did not get off to a good start when the person who delivered my bin last week managed to spit on the pavement at the same time as blocking my gate with it. Needless to say I'm not very impressed.

  3. I am pleased to report that, after representations, Brent Council has now delivered the correct allocation, one per household, in this particular neighbourhood. However, there has been no proper attribution of mistake whether by a manager or streetcare officer. Residents in the same predicament should contact Streetcare on 020 8937 5050 and ask to speak to your Streetcare Officer for the ward.