Ignore the headlines, Brent is going in right direction on bin collections

Don’t ever say this blog doesn’t tackle the big issues. It’s not sexy and most of us don’t really want to think about it, but refuse collection and recycling is probably the service people use most from their local authority. So I’ve done the thinking for you.
Brent’s current recycling service is poor and inefficient. In the new waste strategy the papers have predictably and regrettably focussed on a move to fortnightly collections for non recyclables. This isn’t the really story – the increase in recycling that’s also included is far more significant and could result in a significant decrease in waste sent to landfill.

I moved to NW10 from Haringey about 18 months ago and one of the first things that struck me about daily life here was how poor the recycling service was in Brent. Haringey’s severe deficiencies in some areas have been well documented and are not be glossed over, but much of the council appeared to function well. In particular the recycling service was pretty good taking a wide variety of type of refuse and on an average week by volume I could easily recycle more than half of what I threw out. It was a bit of a shock coming here where that dropped to usually a little more than 20% and sometimes less. No card or cardboard could be recycled, and very little pastic. What was more infuriating was how picky the recycling van was. Putting your rubbish outside in the green box but in a plastic bag so the paper wouldn’t get wet if it rained? Then I’m afraid we’ll ignore that completely and just leave it.

There’s a fairly simple reason for this which is that Brent, unlike Haringey opted for kerbside sorting. So the recyclables are split into bottles, paper etc. on the van, rather than later at a centralised facility. This creates two problems at collection time. Firstly its labour intensive at that point so anything that adds to that (like looking inside a plastic bag) can’t be entertained. Secondly the vans are specialised and therefore don’t have room to carry bulky card or cardboard. This means that simple things like the cardboard sleeves around the outside of pre-packed food are currently going to landfill.

Thankfully that looks all about to change. At the Council Executive meeting on the 11th, Brent went out to consultation on a new waste strategy that would vastly increase the amount of waste recycled from people like me. A move to sorting at a centralised facility rather than at kerbside would mean card and cardboard could be recycled for the first time and not only that but an expanded range of plastics. If your waste bin is anything like mine the vast bulk of it will now be able to be recycled.

This is obviously good news, so why do the only news stories I can find on this (here and here) pick out a move to fortnightly collections rather than an improvement to the recycling service? It is true that if Brent moves to the new scheme we will have alternating collections of refuse and recyclables. But if more waste is recycled then it absolutely makes sense to re-assess when materials are collected. Also missing from the general complaining about this is that food and organic waste (the stuff that goes off, smells and if not properly contained attract vermin) will still be collected weekly. While people will have to take care in sorting and storing waste is that really such an unreasonable request? Its notable that the national newspaper that has been at the forefront of campaigning against fortnightly collection and bizarrely even wheelie bins, is the one most vocal on the subject of the “nanny state”. I won’t link to it on this blog but you know which one its is – its the one that rhymes with ‘fail’. Surely if there is one thing that people ought to able to do with only minimal government assistance, it is to clean up after themselves. Taking reasonable care of your waste and some minor pre-sorting ought to fall into that category.

The story here is a good one and although it might not be immediately attractive to headline writers, Brent is going in the right direction on its waste collection.

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