Waste & Recycling Local Issues

Once upon a time... the dustman would come to your back door, carry your bin to the dustcart waiting in the street outside, empty its contents in the dustcart and return your empty bin to the back door. The job was well done, there was no trace of rubbish left all over the pavements and the roads, and the price was right. With the advent of black sacks, this task should have been made even easier and more efficient. However, over recent years, this has not been seen to be the case. Inevitably, nowadays, the public have to put up with the unhygienic and unsightly remnants of the rubbish collection round littering the pavements and the streets, where bags have been torn open and the spilled contents left scattered on the floor. People are understandably not very happy about this and, for the amount of money they pay in council tax, feel that they are being denied the reasonable quality of service they should be entitled to.


Examples of refuse litter resulting from Bexley Council's 'Black Sack Policy'




What Impovement? Remember the days when the dustman used to collect your bin from your back garden, empty it into the dustcart and return it to your back garden where it was out of the way, convenient for the householder, and not unsightly for all the neighbourhood. The service was wonderful and there were no spilt contents all over the pavements. With many people now wondering how long it will be before the local authority expect us to take the rubbish to the tip ourselves, when Bexley Council delivered its recent 'CHANGE OF REFUSE COLLECTION ARRANGEMENTS' leaflet, promoting an 'improvement in the service', we wrote to them to enquire as to what this 'improvement' would be.


A leaflet from Bexley Council, issued to each household, explaining a change in refuse collection arrangements.

Bexley Council Leaflet

September 2002

IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO HOUSEHOLDERS

Dear Householder,

CHANGE OF
REFUSE COLLECTION ARRANGEMENTS

To improve this important service, Bexley Council is making a change to how your refuse is collected.

From Friday 20th September 2002, your refuse will only be collected from the front edge of your property boundary.That is inside your garden and within one metre (3 feet) of your front gate or wall; most households already do this.

Some residents may be unable to place their refuse at the front edge of their property if there is:

a) not enough room at the front of your property for your refuse; or
b) no one-in your household is physically able to move the
refuse to the front,

if either of the above applies to you, then please tell us by:

  • telephoning the 24 hour "edge of property" hot line 020 8308 4879
  • e-mail at worksdirect@bexley.gov.uk
  • writing to Works and Contracts,
  • Crayford Town Hall, I 12 Crayford Road, Crayford, Kent DA I 4ER
  • We will then discuss this with you and help where we can.
  • Thank you in advance for your co-operation in this change.
  • Yours faithfully
  • Mike Frizoni Assistant Director of
  • Environmental Services (Works and Contracts)

Requesting an explanation of the so called 'improvements' referred to in the above leaflet...

Letter 01

RE: CHANGE OF REFUSE COLLECTION ARRANGEMENTS

18/09/02

Dear Mr Frizoni,

Thank you for your letter regarding the change of refuse-collection arrangements dated September 2002. Waste disposal and recycling is one of several issues we are currently interested in and something that is of concern to us. We wondered if you would be so kind as to explain what the 'improvement to this important service' is that you are referring to in the opening paragraph of your letter?

You will probably remember that, not so long ago, the dustman would come up your garden path to your back door, collect your dustbin, take it to the dustcart, empty the contents and return it to your back door. Black sacks obviously make life easier in many ways, but it is quite apparent, that at the same time people are being asked to do more towards the mechanics of the refuse collection process, we are also being charged phenomenally more in the form of council tax than we used to pay in rates. There are also additional problems with black bag spillage that we also now have to contend with.

We are currently very concerned with the fact that, in many areas, people are getting a lot less for their money than they used to, whilst, at the same time, being charged considerably more. We know that your department is no doubt under pressure to deliver more for less, as seems to be the trend nowadays, and we know that society has limited resources with which to deal with essential problems. However, we believe that many of the problems we are referring to are due to the misallocation of resource. Too much money being spent on things that, the majority of people regard as non-essential, at the expense of things that we regard as essential. Refuse collection, waste disposal, eradication of litter, and a means for people to dump unwanted items as well as the recycling of recyclable goods, are all of prime importance. These areas are all currently under funded and mismanaged to the point where the streets are strewn with litter and where people think that they have a right to dump unwanted items of all sorts from ovens, fridges and sofas, to carpets and cars, by the side of the road or similar. The number of litter bins in the average street has diminished and when black bags are ripped open by dogs, cats and foxes, the contents thereby spewed onto the pavement are left to rot and untidy the streets. Just from where I am writing this letter, looking out of my front window I can see a street strewn with litter. Even though this road is visited periodically by a street cleaner, nobody seems to bother clearing the litter which lines the perimeter fence of the premises over the road. Who runs the premises over the road? Bexley council! What used to be a secondary school playground and would have been cleared of litter by naughty boys on playground duty, is now the Howbury Centre car park, and sadly neglected by the authority which charges us phenomenal amounts of money every year in the form of council tax.

You may not have an answer as to what the 'improvement' referred to in your letter is and maybe you are just trying to be diplomatic with your approach to the general public. On the other hand, the improvement you refer to may be purely in the interests of the department responsible for the funding and organisation of the whole refuse collection process. Whatever the case, we would still be interested in what it is you are referring to and in any other points you may have for us to consider for our assessment in this area. Thank you.

Yours faithfully,
Mr DJ Tarrant


An additional follow up letter requesting that each household be issued with a wheelie bin to prevent black sack spillage.

Letter 02

RE: CHANGE OF REFUSE COLLECTION ARRANGEMENTS

24/09/02

Dear Mr Frizoni,

We know that you may not have had time as yet to respond to our first letter, dated 18/09/02, and we look forward to receiving your reply. We do feel, however, in the mean time, that we must complain about the new arrangements that your department are trying to implement. Residents are not happy about the fact that they are being asked to carry their rubbish through the house and leave it in the front street, rather than putting it in the back alley, as they have been doing for some years. At least in the back alley it is out of the way and any spilled contents are not in the main road. I personally am not happy with the proposed arrangements, as, at the moment, I have a wheelie bin at the back of the house, which is emptied of black sacks by the dustmen. This has been a satisfactory arrangement for years. It means that the dustman can empty it at his convenience and I do not have to worry about putting the rubbish out onto the street. It also means that my rubbish sacks are not prone to attack by scavenging animals and are, therefore, not contributing to the spilled contents in the road. As nobody seems to worry about picking up the spilled contents, we would prefer this situation to be the case for all householders. I have been out in the street after the refuse collection round and observed the mess. It is not a pretty sight to see disposable nappies and old chicken carcasses lying on the pavement. It also has to be said that this is not particularly hygienic either. Also, crisp wrappers and other lightweight paper articles, spilled from sacks, get blown around up and down the street and make the whole place generally untidy. We do not feel that this current situation is very acceptable and would, indeed, like to see some improvement.

Request for the institution of a revised protocol
We would, therefore, like to request the institution of a revised protocol and would ask that every householder be allocated a wheelie bin and that every householder may have their wheelie bin emptied of black sacks from the front, or the side of their house, or, where there is rear access, from the bottom of their garden, if more appropriate for them. This action will protect the streets from spilled contents and give the householder the sort of service that they deserve for the amounts of money they are paying.

Summary of advantages of this protocol
Rubbish sacks are protected from scavenging animals, which in turn protects the streets from spilled, unhygienic contents. Rubbish sacks can sometimes be prone to slight tearing from objects in them. In a wheelie bin they are protected from flies and consequently, do not offer a breading medium for maggots. Wheelie bins also help to contain any leaking, undesirable odours. If rubbish sacks are retrieved from the wheelie bin the householder does not have to worry about putting them out and if the householder happens not to be there for any reason the rubbish still gets collected. As the dustman can collect the rubbish sacks at his own convenience, in the event of a bank holiday (or any other reason as to why the dust round is delayed for a day or so) the rubbish sacks are not sitting on the pavements for an additional twenty-four hours, making them even more prone to be targeted by flies or scavenging animals.

People are currently paying very high levels of council tax and deserve something for their money. We would therefore appreciate your positive response on this issue. Thank you.

Yours faithfully,
Mr DJ Tarrant


Explaining that the Council's new protocol is an attempt to try and make the service more efficient and reduce costs.

Letter 02 reply

04 October 2002

Dear Mr Tarrant

Change of Refuse Collection Arrangements

I refer to your letters dated 18th and 24th September, and must firstly apologise to you for the delay in my response.

I do not recall having been in contact with the Crosstalk Foundation previously, and it would be most helpful to understand more about your organisation and its work, particularly as the Council does endeavour to work as closely with the community and outside organisations as it can.

Turning to your specific questions regarding my letter on the change of refuse collection arrangements, the "improvements" are in part about reducing the risk of refuse being missed, as refuse can currently be left anywhere on a residents property on collection days and the refuse collectors must go onto properties and look for the refuse. This has resulted in the service having a higher level of missed collections than that being achieved in other authorities, the vast majority of whom now operate an edge-of-property collection service.

The decision to move to an edge-of-property service also followed extensive consultation with residents (more than 10,000 responses were received to a questionnaire in a Bexley Magazine article) which indicated that the vast majority of residents already place their refuse at the edge of their property and for those that didn't, most said that they would be prepared to do so. As well as making the service more reliable and avoiding problems of security risks through refuse collectors having to enter side gates etc., to residents properties and these having to be left open, the service will also be considerably faster and more efficient. These efficiency improvements are essential as the Council rises to the challenge of the need to massively increase recycling rates. Because Bexley has for a number of years achieved high recycling levels, currently around 20%, it has been set the high recycling targets in London i.e. 33% by 2003 and 36% by 2005.

To achieve these levels, it will be necessary to introduce further edge-of-property recycling services. As you will be aware, the Borough currently operates a very successful fortnightly paper collection service, but it will also be necessary to introduce compostable waste collections and other dry recyclables - glass, cans, plastics etc., on a Borough-wide basis. These are currently operating in trial areas around the Borough, but their expansion Borough-wide will require significant additional resources and it will be essential that all these services operate on a like-for-like basis in the most cost-effective manner, i.e. edge-of-property collections.

I do appreciate the points you make about how refuse was collected in the past, but in those days waste disposal was relatively cheap i.e. in the late 1980's it was around £5 per tonne but by 2006 it will be around £60 per tonne, landfilling was also the accepted form of disposal but this will be effectively banned for the vast majority of waste in the future. Also waste volumes continue to grow at an alarming rate at around 5% per annum in London. Even against this background, the current costs of waste collection and disposal equate to just over £1 per property per week.

As my Department is responsible for managing all of the services you mention, i.e. litter, fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles etc., I do share your concerns that these services are under-funded. You may not be aware that the majority of Council funding is derived from Government grants and as a technical advisor to the Local Government Association, I am continually working to attract more funding for these essential basic services from the Government's Treasury Departments. They of course are charged with distributing funds across the whole range of Local Government services and must balance the competing demands of Education, Social Services etc.

I have noted the point you have raised about the lack of cleaning to the Howbury Centre car park and I will arrange for this area to be specifically cleaned.

With regards to the additional points raised in your letter dated 24th September, and would advise you that it is no longer practical or safe for refuse collection services to operate from the rear of private alleyways. Accident levels to both operatives and refuse vehicles are excessive in these areas as well as damage to private property. The Council has over a number of years steadily been withdrawing from alleyway collections right across the Borough and with the move to an edge-of-property service all remaining alleyway collections will cease wherever properties are accessible from the front.

The Council is about to re-tender its refuse collection and recycling services and prices are being sought for a number of options including the provision of wheeled bins, boxes etc., for both refuse and recycling collections. Whilst it is hoped that it will be possible to provide containers for recycling collections, particularly compost which has to be stored in a container, I anticipate that the cost of the free provision of wheeled bins for refuse collection right across the Borough will be prohibitive. Residents, such as you, have over many years been purchasing their own wheelie bins and more than 10% of the Borough now use wheelie bins. The Council continues to sell these at a discount rate to residents from its Reuse and Recycling centres.

I do understand the point you make about rubbish being left behind following refuse collections and in conjunction with the re-tendering, of the refuse collection service, the street cleansing service will also be tendered. Every effort will be made to co-ordinate these two services so as to minimise the impact of the problems you have highlighted. In the event of sudden problems of littering/dumping arising the Council operates an emergency mobile response service which can be mobilised by contacting my Department on extension 5562.

The matters, which you have raised, involve a wide range of inter-related issues and services but I hope I have covered the main points in your letter. If there are, however, any specific concerns or issues on which I can be of further help, then please let me know.

Yours sincerely

Mike Frizoni
Assistant Director of Environmental Services (Works & Contracts)


Reitterating wheelie bin advantages and requesting that this initiative be given further consideration.

Letter 03

RE: REFUSE COLLECTION AND WASTE DISPOSAL

14/01/03

Dear Mr Frizoni,

Thank you for your letter dated 04/10/02 in response to our letters dated 18/09/02 and the 24/09/02, which was very interesting and informative.

We take your point about missed collections, but again, surely if every property was issued with a wheelie bin and the collectors know they have to collect from every property, this problem would not arise? Wheelie bins are quite visible and it would be hard to miss one. Therefore, if the rubbish sacks are contained within the wheelie bin and the wheelie bin is accessible, there should be no reason for a collection to be missed. We would also note that, even with the edge of property collection, there is still a chance of collections being missed if people forget to put their sacks out, or if they are away at the time, whereas otherwise, their refuse would still be collected.

We note also your point about security, however, it is obviously up to the resident to either allow access to their property, via a back gate, or, if they would prefer, to place their wheelie bin where it is accessible in the front garden, or similar. This is no different to putting out black sacks. Wheelie bins could even be marked with the house address if necessary, the collectors would then know, without doubt, whose refuse they were collecting. Many residents feel that this is the sort of service they should be offered and, as far as the customer is concerned, it is clearly a superior system with many advantages.

We again take your point that some local authorities are trying to go down the road of an edge of property collection policy and in some instances, an end of the street policy and although we understand that this is easier for the collectors, as was noted in our previous letter, the problem of black bag spillage would be avoided if everyone was provided with a wheelie bin. Therefore, this would be a healthier, tidier, and more responsible approach to the whole aspect of dealing with refuse collection. Given the many obvious advantages of utilising this system, the amounts of money paid into the system in the form of council tax, and the fact that many people would prefer it, we cannot understand why it has not already been done. Many other boroughs up and down the country have adopted this protocol and the constituents are currently reaping the benefits. Why can the residents of Bexley Borough not have the same privileges? It is not good to have spilled contents littering the roads and pavements on a permanent ongoing basis.

With regard to the census you refer to, which indicated that people would be prepared to adopt and edge of property protocol, I wonder, has any census ever asked the residents if they would prefer a wheelie bin, with all the advantages that this brings? We will then not have to worry about putting our sacks out, will not have to put up with spilled contents littering the streets, the task of the street cleaners will be made a whole lot easier, it will also help to discourage scavenging animals and the growing rat population, and bins can still be sited at the edge of a person's property. Surely everyone is a winner? If it can be shown that the majority of residents would favour this scheme, would the Council then consider its implementation?

On the subject of improving the street cleaning service, we wonder if perhaps young offenders on community service could be utilised on street cleaning litter duty? Thereby serving the community in a constructive manner and addressing an area that could certainly benefit from additional help.

Yours faithfully,
Mr DJ Tarrant


The Council has at last issued residents with wheelie bins but now only collects the black sack waste fortnightly.

Letter 04

RE: CHANGE OF REFUSE COLLECTION ARRANGEMENTS

01/01/09

Dear Mr Frizoni,

As you may remember we wrote to you some years ago regarding the then so called ‘improvement’ in our waste collection service. As you may also remember we made the observation that, as far as we were concerned, the said changes were in no way an improvement in the service. At the same time, we did suggest things that the Council could do which would improve the service as far as we were concerned, but in traditional Council style, no one took any notice and nothing was done to implement any of the said suggestions, until recently that is, some six years later, when at long last all households have been issued with a wheelie bin. However, it does appear that the motive for this long overdue but nevertheless magnanimous act is somewhat dubious and questionable. And, it has to be said, along with the most recent changes comes yet another serious and notable degradation in the service. This yet again begs the question as to how it is that Bexley Council can see fit to promote something as an improvement, when yet again it actually turns out to be the complete opposite for the resident!

As you know, the opinion of many is that our waste collection service has gone from bad to worse over the years, and it has to be said that Council’s recent policy of now leaving non-recyclable waste to fester for a fortnight at a time, and refusing to take any additional black sacks in the process, can hardly constitute an improvement. It surely cannot be considered sensible to reverse the frequency of collection, when cans, plastics, glass and paper, which do not breed maggots, and are quite able to withstand a fortnightly collection, are collected weekly; whereas black sacks, which can contain all sorts of unsavoury items, and which are a breeding ground for flies and disease, are left sitting around for two weeks at a time! This may be further compounded if residents miss a collection because they are away, as I am myself sometimes. As well as the fact that the refuse may then not all fit in the bin and is therefore in danger of being ignored under the new rules, such refuse will have been sitting around and festering for up to a month at a time. This is not very nice, especially in the summer months, and surely cannot be considered satisfactory?

On the plus side, I have to say that it is appreciated that at long last Bexley Council has decided to issue residents with wheelie bins after years of asking, as at least now black sacks will be protected from scavenging animals and our streets will be tidier as a result. However, after years of expecting residents to put up with unprotected black sacks on the streets and the resultant spilled contents littering the roads and pavements, it seems ludicrous that it has been decided that rubbish will not be collected from bins that don’t have their lids shut properly, or likewise, from bins that have additional loose black sacks on top, or in their vicinity. It cannot possibly constitute an ‘improvement’ in the service if black sacks, or waste in any form, is not collected and is just ignored and left in the street. This is not what people are paying for. We understand that you want to encourage more recycling from people, especially those who are non-compliant, however, it is somewhat sad when it appears that the only reason the Council has decided to issue residents with a wheelie bin in the first place is so that it can ‘ration’ the amount of waste that will be collected from each household, and not because the public have been asking for them for years, and not because it helps to keep the streets tidier either!

Presumably this was the logic that contributed to the fortnightly black sack collection idea, as well as the refusal to take any additional black sacks, being that the Council wishes to ‘ration’ each household to a ‘wheelie bin’s worth’ of black sack waste per fortnight. A further service downgrade which is not acceptable to people and again makes it seem as though the only thing the Council is interested in is how much money it can save. Providing a decent, clean, reliable and conscientious service, and keeping the resident happy, doesn’t seem to figure in the equation very much at all. The resident already does a fair bit of the recycling on behalf of the local authority and we put up with having to use a variety of different containers to do so, all of which have to be given a place to live. We make an effort to rinse out jars, bottles, and cans etc, using our hot water, and to separate all recyclables into the appropriate containers. We then make the effort to put the many different containers by the side of the road, where it is convenient for the Council to empty them. How can you expect residents to make the extra effort when it appears as though the people we pay to collect the rubbish can’t be bothered to do the same? Shouldn’t the Council be conscientious and lead by example?

Most people feel that black sack waste needs to be collected once a week, and even that is long enough in the summer months. It is wholly unacceptable to the resident that the Council are now only collecting it once a fortnight. It is also not very commendable that the Council are quite happy to simply ignore rubbish and leave it where it is if it doesn’t fit strict petty pigeonhole criteria. It is hardly fair on the people paying for the service. We have been tidying up after the Council’s inadequate policies for years and we are still getting a bum deal for our money. We might as well do the job ourselves! Perhaps it is time to consider giving people a discount for doing just that! At least our streets and front gardens won’t have to be ornamented with wheelie bins and plastic boxes!

We would ask that the Council urgently revise this latest policy and revert to collecting black sack waste weekly, as it used to be, and as it needs to be. Anything less is unhygienic and unacceptable! We also feel that if households have the occasional clearout from time to time, and consequently have a few extra black sacks, that the Council should collect the additional black sacks whilst they are doing the round, and save someone the job of making yet another, otherwise unnecessary, car journey to do a job that is already being done and for which they are already paying. We look forward to your positive response on these issues, however, judging by Bexley Council’s past record on the many different issues we have written in about, I don’t suppose we’ll get it, despite the fact that it is the majority view, but, we live in hope!

Yours faithfully,
Mr DJ Tarrant

No reply received


Is it really an Improvement?

Summation

At last, after years of asking, Bexley Council have decided to issue all residences with a wheelie bin. However, it seems the prime motive is not to prevent black sacks from being ripped open by scavenging animals and eradicate spilt contents, it is so as to be able to ration the volume of waste from each household that will be collected by the bin men. Anything that does not fit into your wheelie bin for the now once a fortnight collection (including if the lid does not shut properly), will not be collected. You will then have to take it to the tip yourself. Despite being promoted in Bexley Council's usual misleading manner as an 'improvement in the service' (which it may be for the flies and maggots), it is a notable service downgrade and hardly fair considering the considerable amount of money people pay in the form of council tax.