Alternate Weekly (Waste) Collection: Has It Been Explained?

AWC (Alternate Weekly Collection of recyclable and non-recyclable household waste) has a bad reception in the UK, although it increases the extent of recycling. But why is something designed to sustain our environment – an ambition held by most of us – producing such hostility?

Latest in the endless list of Things People Don’t Like is the idea of alternate weekly collection of recyclable and non-recyclable domestic waste. There is evidence that this is effective in getting people to think more carefully about what they can and cannot recycle (rather than just bunging the lot in the dustbin) but everyone seems to be in uproar about it.
‘Why?’ is always a complex question to answer in environmental matters. What seems self-evidently sensible to the scientists and policy-makers (not to mention the demanding officials of the European Union, who are rightly leading a very serious environmentally conscious charge) is far less evident to Mr & Mrs Suburbia or Mr & Mrs InnerCity. The dialogue has got lost on the way, or perhaps has simply never existed.

People suspect that the bi-weekly collection of their ‘normal’ waste, even though it is to be interspersed by alternate weekly collection of what’s recyclable, is actually the result of a financial ‘cut’, and that it must therefore be bad. No-one seems to have thought to explain that there’s good evidence that AWC increases recycling – albeit at contested levels of efficacy.
Cynicism is the only winner
So there is Big Fuss. Nobody seems to believe something could be being done for ‘good’ reasons; and in that local politicians have often not helped. This situation benefits no-one.
The sooner the powers-that-be learn they must share rationales with ‘ordinary’ people right from the start of their thinking, the better. This is an issue which goes beyond what used to be called the ‘public understanding of science’, to an even more pressing
issue – the sustainability of our planet.
Be straightforward
So let’s ask our media, policy-makers and politicans to be braver and more honest in how they present these things. It would be good for everyone.

Read the debate which follows then…

Posted on April 27, 2007, in Politics, Policies And Process, Sustainability As If People Mattered, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Tony Siebenthaler

    The issue of ‘alternate weekly’ collection of houshold waste has inadvertently exposed how the agenda is being driven not by the need and/or desire to improve recycling, but the deeper wish by environmental policy lobbyists to see us consume less, on principle, regardless how this impacts on household cost, practicality, the broader economic costs to business etc…and most worryingly, health. I have also been quite surprised at just how ineptly policies have been pursued, almost making it up as they go along, making incoherent responses to problems highlighted that any properly composed and objectively crafted policy would have unearthed much earlier, say, before it was announced, certainly before it was rolled out.
    The whole system being devised as it is around fines and compulsion, rather than rewards and help takes no account of practical problems and likely abuses of the system. If we take for example the response to the issue of waste being dumped in neighbours bins if ‘weigh and pay’ is implemented, that bins will be lockable then – you can tell that the issue had not been objectively explored. Apart from the horrendous logistical burden such a notion would impose on refuse collectors, it has plainly not occured to those devising responses on the hoof that any person anti social enough to dump thier waste in a neighbours recepticle would have no qualms about jemmying the bin open, placing it in your recyclable materials bin (with the full wrath for failing to sort materials properly being wraught on the poor dupe this would unleash) or simply dumping it in your garden!
    With plans being drawn up to charge for taking refuse to waste centres, chronic flouting, with the resulting litter and health implications, almost a certainty. The punative system will also unleash all sorts of unwanted (and, appallingly, unanticipated) consequences. Will anybody any longer bother to clean up their street or take their litter home even, if this is going to mean a major financial cost? Who will be responsible for fly-blown rubbish that accumulates, but is not generated by the housholder, in gardens and driveways? What business would in future provide the many curtosy bins you see outside shops and the like, if they would only be adding to their refuse bill?
    Why would many not do the semsible thing and simply burn most of their household rubbish (as is happening in Ireland)in the garden or throw it in the street? Who will now trust the kids to put the rubbish out and into the ‘right’ recepticles? … and how will you be able to prove that rubbish in the wrong recepticle was not an accident or someone elses ill intent anyway? The ‘crime’ is almost undefendable too.. and who would trust the local authority and all their empoyees to be 100% straight in their dealings… it is a cheats and a snides charter!
    The dismissal of real health concerns about leaving perishable waste to only be picked up once a fortnight exposes for me how the whole policy is being driven by dangerous dogmatists, rather than a real concern for health (THE point of rubbish collection remember) and the desire to recycle more. You only have to remember why weekly collections where made legally binding on local authorities in the 1870s’in the first place.. because of the health threats posed by waste food and other materials that rot pose to public health if left any longer than this. They did not have the same problems with the volume of general waste being generated, with the none perishable part of people’s rubbish that we have today, mainly being small amounts of ash – no! They brought in weekly collections for the simple reason that not to do so would lead to disease! This fact has not changed, the bacteria that grows in this material is just as deadly to us today as it was to our forebears! This is being ignored in the evangelicls drive to ‘change our habits’even at the expense of our health.
    Like 99% of people I am enthusiastic about recycling as much as I possibly can, can identify the economic benifits of a properly devised system and appreciate the environmental benitits of such. What appalls me about the way in which the approach is being driven now is that we are not being told the truth behid why policies are being developed in the way in which they are.
    There are many countries that recycle most of their matrial without the punitive fines and charges being planned for England, but these don’t tackle consumption, and everytime a suitable system is suggested it is poopooed by the anti consumption zealots. If the desire was solely about recycling then rewards would be in pace to encourage you to do so, with discounts given to those who do most. People would not face an ever escalating charge for taking their larger items to waste centres as they do now, but systems that could enable what is recyclable from this sort of item would be brought in. Much more help would be made available to those who find, what is quite a confusing and convoluted problem, difficulty in doing it right, rather than facing hyper fines for their failure to comprehend … if the desire was to maximise recycling.
    This is about making us consume less, as I said. For example, If it costs three times more to dump your old TV or wardrobe than it will cost for a new one, then you will be likely to think again before simply nipping out and doing so (even when the TV is beyond repair, what do you do then?)…
    But rather than keep the item, most likely many will simply dump it in someone else’s alley! Authorities have real trouble tracking the relatively small amounts of dumping and fly tipping that curse us now, so imagine how they will stand up to a massive surge in this type of activity?
    Now, you may agree that we should indeed consume less, but this isn’t being highlighted as a reason policy is developing the way in which it is. If those driving policy are so clear about our needs for doing so then they should be open about the goals .. and be prepared to face off those who end up compromised by swinging weekly charges.. and, of course those who would end up unemployed.
    I am afraid that this is yet another example of New labour policy being pushed out on a blind and dogmatic principle, before a full analysis of the difficulties have even been recognised, never mind aleviated.

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