Bin Charges and the Big Society

h1. Bin Charges and the Big Society

p(meta). 14 April 2011

It looks as though the government is set to scrap fines for breaking the rules of domestic waste collection. This is being hailed by many as a good thing. But why do they think this?

Currently councils have the power to levy a fixed-penalty notice on residents if they repeatedly break the rules covering rubbish collections, such as recycling incorrectly or leaving waste out on the wrong day. Recycling incorrectly can include persistently putting the wrong materials into recycling containers or putting recyclable materials into the landfill waste. In reality few people have received fines for this as most councils will simply throw contaminated recycling into general waste [1] before moving on to fines in a small percentage of cases.

But fines or no fines, let’s be clear - it is our responsibility to do our bit in these constrained times. David Cameron might call this his ‘Big Society’, some of us may call it social responsibility and just doing ‘the right thing’. If councils have got to the point where they are cutting bugets for education and closing libraries, do we want them to have to pay out their scant resources on landfill tax that has to be paid thanks to people not sorting their rubbish? Or the costs of having people sort through recycling? If people can’t even be bothered to spend two seconds considering which bin to put their recycling into, is there any hope at all for the ‘Big Society’ when it comes to expecting people to take over from the State?

The strange thing is that it’s generally the people on the Right who are complaining about having to sort their rubbish, and it’s the Tories who are heralding the scrapping of fines as some sort of great social win. At the same time however these are exactly the same people who are telling us that we’ll all have to pitch-in to help. This is smallest bit of pitching-in imaginable, and yet they are already refusing. Is this a case of ‘do what I say, not as I do’?

Those of us with an environmental bent have been seperating our recycling for years, of course, and anyone whose council offers food waste collection really has no reason to have ‘smelly’ rubbish. It depends on area of course, but somewhere such as Bath (where I live), where there is little that isn’t collected via doorstep recycling, fortnightly collections are fine. For some people like myself who don’t have kids, monthly collections would probably be ok.

I honestly struggle to think of how a single person or couple could possibly fill a black bag with non-recyclables in a normal week, which rather suggests that they’re not recycling. Not only should the council refuse to keep subsidising this laziness, but they absolutely should start a regime of fines. The carrot has been used for long enough - it’s time to bring-out the stick.