When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

Via Twitter I came across the graphics Edinburgh City Council issues to households to let them know on which day their bins should be put out for collection. Here’s an example below:

Only a modern government bureaucracy could come up with something like that for the once-simple task of emptying the bins. And as someone on Twitter asks, where is each household supposed to find the space for five separate bins?

This is what happens when state bodies become employment programs, entirely divorced from the customer when providing a service.

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38 thoughts on “When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

  1. Contrast to our commune in France: Monday garden waste, Tuesday/Thursday normal trash, Wednesday recycling.
    And it never changes!

  2. Contrast to our commune in France:

    In my building in Paris: hoy everything into one of two giant bins (normal waste and recyclables) and the concierge wheels them out in time for the council lorry. Everything else (furniture, etc.) just stick out in the road and the council lorry will come by once the Roma have scavenged everything worth taking.

    In Annecy: same bin system, everything else you drive to the decheterie.

  3. There’s not much mileage in single-issue politics (per your previous post), but if ever I were to enter local politics it would be to form the Weekly Bin Collection Party.

    As with Brexit, bin collection reveals the deep disconnect between our governing classes and the people they notionally serve.

  4. Our local bin collection is almost as complicated. It looks as if the complexity is due to a combination of eco concerns (i.e. we now recycle more) and cutbacks (they’ve only got small numbers of lorries and they work the staff more efficiently).

  5. More importantly the effing council completely disregards two fundamental things:
    1. People’s time is not free; and
    2. The waste of energy

    1. Forcing people to separate waste and play this sodding pantomime is essentially forcing people to do work for the council unpaid.

    2. As a species we spend huge effort digging hydrocarbons out of the ground and then burning them or turning them into carbohydrates. We then spend a shitload of energy wondering what to do with spare carbohydrates! It’s insane. Modern waste-to-energy plants can take the ENTIRE waste stream and split out economically reusables mechanically and then incinerate the rest to generate power, without creating pollution (and CO2 is not pollution, just a GHG).
    Just put every fucking bit of trash you have in one single bin and let the council turn that into electricity or recycled stuff. The waste of London is like a billion barrel oil find.

  6. Everything goes in one big bin here and the council take it away three times a week.

    Unfortunately, the stupid British expats have been pushing for ‘recycling’ and the council has recently introduced recycling points where you can take your cardboard, bottles, plastics etc. I don’t bother.

    I can see this being a slippery slope though and voluntary becoming compulsory in the near future.

  7. My local council has managed to keep it fairly simple – normal bins fortnightly, on one day, everything else fortnightly on the same day but one week apart. That said, they were until fairly recently a Tory council – they went Labour about 3 years ago, and ever since council tax has gone through the roof, and the amount of stupid things they do appears to be increasing proportionately.

  8. I live in Edinburgh and suffer this system. You must ensure it all goes in, otherwise it won’t be collected and if you miss the collection, well it’s two to three weeks before the next one. Alternative weeks are bearable enough, but now garden waste is every 3 weeks. A total nightmare.
    Edinburgh Council is not good at what one might call core services: bins, roads, schools, etc. I had the notion of forming a one issue party which was to refocus the council on what council tax payers saw as mattered (said bins, etc.) and get rid of the dross of diversity officers, and so on.
    Just to give you a flavour of the council’s incompetence: My son recently moved into their new school which is about 3 years late and–unbelievably–already too small for the catchment area. Can you believe it?
    This is a council that wanted to institute road pricing (rejected) and has introduced a 20 MPH speed limit across the city which isn’t being enforced.
    Yes, we have 4 pickups some weeks (recyclables, food, glass, and garden waste). Four trucks passing by, with attendant workers loading the stuff into the back.
    Oh, you have to pay for large pick-ups and they want us to pay for garden waste (or at least make a “voluntary” contribution). Council tax in Edinburgh, alongside Water and Sewage, will probably see you paying one month’s for these services–so ain’t cheap.
    Last point (must stop ranting) is the introduction of resident’s parking–for which you must pay. Prior to this, of course, you had the right to park outside your home for free. Now they charge. I suggested that was OK as long as they reduced my council tax accordingly–that didn’t go down well.

  9. The Edinburg City Council is about 20 to 30 years behind the times. First of all, the great majority of recycling operations collect mixed refuse, and hand sort it at their processing sites. Long experience has shown that the public cannot reliably sort recyclables, and that the contents of the various containers are nearly as mixed as plain refuse.

    The only people who voluntarily sort their trash are college educated middle class people, and they can’t do it right. Rich people and poor people don’t both unless there is some legal penalty, and then they make a hash of it. The poor do it deliberately.

    That said, my daughter in Columbus, Ohio, has a similar chart on her kitchen wall.

    I am reminded that in my youth in Boston in the 1960’s, the City Council passed a winter parking rule to facilitate snow plowing. In its first version, the rule was that on even-numbered days park on the odd-numbered side of the street, and on odd-numbered days park on the even-numbered side of the street. Hilarity ensued, the rule was changed after a week of public derision.

  10. Modern waste-to-energy plants can take the ENTIRE waste stream and split out economically reusables mechanically and then incinerate the rest to generate power, without creating pollution (and CO2 is not pollution, just a GHG).

    Ah yes, but that requires capital outlay and OPEX and trained personnel to run, all of which is miles outside the capability of any council these days. Better to just get the proles to do all the work for them.

  11. This is where we send our rubbish in backward Bilbao.

    http://www.zabalgarbi.com/en/

    I live out on an estate and we have 3 collections a week and dotted round the estate large bins for plastics, cans and tetrabiks, wine bottles (is there any other kind of glass) and paper and card.

    Bilbao city has the same with big bins for general refuse collected by a lorry everynight. Cuddles alongside the bin and the lorry picks it up, runs it up the side of the lorry and tips the rubbish in. One drive nobody else.

    Recycling lorries run other schedules according to how often they fill. There is a special service for shops to pick up empty crates and boxes. Those are hand loaded and require driver + 2.

  12. Yes Tim – but it also generates a significant revenue stream as electricity is quite valuable (and borrowable against).
    Edinburgh could:
    1. Approach Vedanta, Veolia, Covanta or any number of experienced players to build and operate a large combined recycling / powergen plant for them (somewhere along the firth)
    2. The contractor borrows to build with electricity revenue and guaranteed trash stream as collateral
    3. Contractor makes return and economy grows
    4. People in Edinburgh have 1 bin and 1 bin only to fill up (weekly)
    5. Country’s green credentials and recycling rates go up hugely and gas import bills drop alot (don’t forget opportunity cost / value of not having to generate X amount of power by other means)
    6. Edinburgh council have no aditional cost or risk at all

    Chances of a sensible approach like this being taken = snowball in hell. The Scots are socialists for the most part and very business unfriendly. They grumble about the bins but keep voting the fuckers into power.

  13. We have about 5 different bins in our kitchen and I’m still not entirely sure where some things should go. Thankfully the house manger takes care of which ones get taken out on which collection days.

    Anoother added complication here is that different cities have their own rules so at convienence stores the bins and what can go in them is different (e.g in some areas you have to take the caps and lables off PET bottles and put in a seperate bin.)

  14. Bilbao city has the same with big bins for general refuse collected by a lorry everynight. Cuddles alongside the bin and the lorry picks it up, runs it up the side of the lorry and tips the rubbish in. One drive nobody else.

    I was in Auckland recently and watched the collections there with the same system.

    There is a mix of private and council collections (for reasons I didn’t quite understand as you still have to pay the council if you use a private firm).

    The fascinating thing was that the private trucks were single operator while the council vehicles (exactly the same) needed two operators…

  15. My rubbish is collected twice a week, but then I live in the evil empire of the heartless Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

    If only I had a council that cared about the people…………

  16. I have several bins too, but it doesn’t seem particularly onerous. They’re big bins that live at the end of the drive, are collected from there, and no busybodies checking the contents/fining you for bringing it in 12 minutes too late, or being too full, etc. So I don’t even need to know what the collection schedule is. I have had a refused collection once in the last 10 years for wrong contents.

    Packaging: used to get shipped to China for “recycling” (i.e., get tipped in the Pearl River as a whale and dolphin population control measure.) Dunno what they do with it now.
    Organic waste: combined garden/food waste/cat litter etc. Gets composted and sold back to us.
    Paper: Really useful after a trip to Ikea, or newspaper subscription for the airmiles.
    Almost everything else: Gets tipped in a CHP plant and sold back to us as heat and leccy.

    Big stuff gets collected on demand, the only stuff you have to take to a tip is electrical waste (which is still shipped to China and tipped in the Pearl River to control whale and dolphin overpopulation).

  17. “In unrelated news, councils express increasing concern about the extent of
    flytipping in their areas….”

    Having almost abandoned rubbish collection, our local sack-of-precomposted-manure ‘council’ is now trying to charge a fee for people who take the trouble to take it to the dump themselves.

    Coming soon, to a roadside near you….

  18. “And it never changes!”

    We lived for a number of years in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The council had to send out a complete calendar for the year because your weekly collection day was pushed back every time there was a stat holiday. It got quite confusing around Christmas and New Year! 🙂

  19. What do houses do with five bins?

    Areas with a lot of terraced houses usually leave them on the street to the point where no one can walk down the pavement, though one local council I supported with generous payments each month eventually declared that potato peelings were not eligible for the green bin. I admit that yes, they are brown, but do they not rot down? Or was the council afraid of little potatoes springing up?

    It was a Labour council with entrenched Labour voters whose only idea of meeting their five a day would be extra potatoes. I expect therefore all the peelings went in the black bin to be parcelled up and shipped to landfill sites in China.

  20. I used to live in Columbus. Do they still have the color-coded trash system, where if there’s a holiday, Navy and Gray move forward a day and Pink moves back 3 days, except at night, when Green moves forward a day and a half, except on Tuesday… it was like playing Fizzbin with Captain Kirk.

    Where I live now, you only have regular trash and recycling, but you have to rent the bins from the contractor. I don’t see why I should have to rent tge contractor’s product when I don’t have a contract with him.

  21. This now seems utterly incredible to me. In France it was as Tim says except all rubbish, regular as clockwork, 10 am Monday morning. And they’d take most things including beds, car batteries etc. Here it’s a big wheeliebin about 50m from the house & nightly.
    The incredulity come from you’d actually put up with this shit? It seems so fucking…foreign to me, now. Try this in France they’d likely end up with it all on the hotel de ville steps. Spanish would just dump rubbish in the street, where they’ve always dumped it, bin or not.
    Yet you do. Why sdon’t you just lynch someone? All you needs a rope & a lamp-post.

  22. The whole thing about recycling is that it’s a complete scam. At an industrial scale it can make sense, depending on the price volatility of your raw materials streams, but recycling household waste (or worse, municipal composting) is both more expensive and worse for the environment than just chucking it in a properly designed landfill.

    Whenever someone tries to convince me that recycling is some kind of good idea, I point to some old soda cans I have lying around that list the return value in different states and ask them: if recycling is such a fantastic idea, why is no one paying me for my garbage?

  23. @Patrick: what you’re forgetting is that no one wants the incinerator located near them. Any private company putting in the planning for such a facility will face a massive public campaign to get it thrown out, which will be partially backed by at least the most affected local councillors (because votes), and will probably involve legal challenges at all stages of the process. Exactly such a scenario unfolded near me – a company applied to build a waste to energy plant on an existing industrial site, the locals created such a furore about it that it got thrown out by the planners. And if the council tried to do it themselves the party in charge would face annihilation at the ballot box. Private business doesn’t want the hassle, the State’s hands are tied by democracy.

    Basically people don’t like the idea of having waste incinerators/gasifiers located anywhere near them, which pretty much kills the idea stone dead in a densely populated small island like the UK, as trucking the waste into the middle of nowhere is hardly that economic/green either. And the few places that really are the middle of nowhere are usually National Parks or AONBs etc, so not really suitable for sodding great incinerators and massive piles of rubbish.

  24. In the Austrian countryside we were issued with a calendar each year by the local council, detailling the different collections for rubbish, dry recycling and paper. Once a year was the “sperrmĂĽll” collection which meant furniture, dead rhinos etc etc. One friday per month a skip was opened up behind the town hall for some of the bizarrer rubbish generated by the local yokels.
    We had a blackboard in the kitchen with the next collection date chalked on it.
    To be fair the dustcart was shared by a number of councils, which meant strict timetabling.
    More often than not we just drove our refuse to Vienna where we chucked it into a big bin which went to the incinerator every Monday morning to provide energy for council flats. There we had recyling points on the street corner for glass and plastic.

  25. A sore point has been pushed here. Maybe there is space for a bin party to run after all.

    Am in Tower Hamlets. Say what you like about elections and voter fraud, about corruption in the grants given, and religious entryism, and etc etc but they do manage the bins properly. Every week the same with days for recycling, waste and garden waste. They did have some complex system but dropped it, probably because the error rate was huge and streets full of waste that missed the bi-weekly collection date makes the council look inefficient.

    Just back from Singapore. There is even easier. Every day is waste day, even the weekend. Most days are recycling days. Waste is done every day as it will smell to high heaven if it is left for any time at all. Not surprising given the heat.

    Only when voters are dumb enough to elect the local environmental or social do-gooder does the waste problem grow. It’s a practical problem and these people don’t do practical, they do however attempt behaviour change.

  26. @BiG – “which is still shipped to China and tipped in the Pearl River to control whale and dolphin overpopulation”

    Don’t you just love those stories whereby residents diligently separate waste streams and collectors collect it and process it separately in order that it can all be recombined and used as landfill in shithole countries.

    We had a local experience here in a city scaled Ipswich were the council couldn’t afford the new higher price for treating recyclables since China has upped the market rate, it was simply going into the same local landfill as non-recyclable waste, hue and cry and now a new contract is being awarded.

    The British Cultural Marxism procedure of rubbish removal does take the biscuit in my books. I remember that last winter I was there staying with family, got up early cleaned up and decided to take the rubbish out. A drive to an exposed car park, blowing a gale, raining, freezing, massively complicated system, already chock a block and bursting at the seams. Soiled nappies at face level, glass at eye level, god knows what blowing in the wind and to cap it off a security camera pointed at my car and monitoring my disposal compliance level.

  27. On the sludge to energy discussion. I have seen and studied when I were a lad the processing and commercially viable conversion of sewer sludge into fertiliser. It was achieved by setting up long raised worm racks next to the sewer plant, placing the sewer sludge along the top and letting the worms munch it up and harvesting their droppings it’s called vermiculture. Primo fertiliser and also good aerated soil structure for root growth as well. There are still restrictions in the distribution of the fertiliser as it originates from human waste its not allowed to get back into the food chain.

    The point being that nature does provide us with recyclers that have performed pretty well since we have been on this planet.

  28. Tim,

    Seeing how the subject is rubbish, your post has generated a lot of interesting comments.

    My question for Edinburgh Council is this: how many refuse coordinators sitting in offices do they employ, and how many actual bin men? (Garbage collectors for American readers.)

    Bob Sykes: “The only people who voluntarily sort their trash are college educated middle class people …” That’s me – for better or worse. I don’t have sympathy with much of the green agenda, but I absolutely hate seeing things just thrown away, so I’m a diligent recycler.

    Pogonip: “… it was like playing Fizzbin with Captain Kirk.” That’s just what I was thinking as you described refuse collection in Columbus. Geek minds think alike?

    Bloke in Spain: “The incredulity come from you’d actually put up with this shit?” Because, unlike Spain – and indeed unlike the whole of Europe except Switzerland – Britain has experienced several centuries of consensual government. As a result, the law there is regarded as something to be respected and obeyed, even when one personally does not agree with it. Why do you think Britain is one of the very few countries with an unarmed police force? But stuff like this – and, more pertinently, Tommy Robinson – may be causing that attitude to change.

    Jim, couldn’t the people near the putative incinerator just be bought off? Like a discount off their council tax or a periodic incinerator dividend? People are opposed to most forms of development, but will put up with it, if they feel there’s something in it for them personally.

  29. @Bardon, yet it can work. Apparently the domestic waste recycling rate in Germany is around 70%, and much of the rest of it goes in CHP. That can also be used for the “recyclables” when no one is prepared to reprocess them.

    Jim, I actually live almost next to our local CHP, though it has the advantage that it was built at the same time as the housing so no one to object. It was very interesting having a guided tour of the place. For certain values of “interesting” anyway. At least, I’m sure our host would have appreciated it from an engineering perspective.

  30. I’m surprised the local Muslims haven’t objected to the red Star of David on the Council’s chart.

  31. A drive to an exposed car park, blowing a gale, raining, freezing, massively complicated system, already chock a block and bursting at the seams. Soiled nappies at face level, glass at eye level, god knows what blowing in the wind and to cap it off a security camera pointed at my car and monitoring my disposal compliance level.

    Ah, Britain! Suddenly I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia.

  32. At least, I’m sure our host would have appreciated it from an engineering perspective.

    I’m sure I would!

  33. We at the moment have an efficient fortnightly collection system same day different bins, only the garden waste is a different day and lorry, they will also take extra waste in bags, so no real complaints.

    “This is a council that wanted to institute road pricing (rejected) and has introduced a 20 MPH speed limit across the city which isn’t being enforced.”
    I live on one, it has never been enforced and I know of none that have, all you get from them is knobheads accelerating between the speed bumps and the ever increasing small builders vans with empty trailers who do not slow for the bumps and the trailers crash into them, why areas push to have them I have no idea all they achieve is a rise in council tax to pay for them.
    As the “safety camera partnership” ! is only interested in dual carriageways and the police are non existent it is every man for himself.

  34. Tim, the fire control system in the enormous rubbish bunker was fascinating. It consisted, largely, of “if we see smoke coming from part of the rubbish pile we just dump it in the incinerator as fast as we can”. If it ever goes up big time, I am certain I and thousands of others will be asphyxiated in our beds.

    Also interesting was the negative pressure system to contain the stench to certain parts of the plant (they don’t want it in the canteen, or chief executive’s office) and send it up the smokestack to stop the neighbourhood being ponged out. How they switched priority between heat and electricity output (basically from summer to winter) was a bit beyond my comprehension.

  35. “@Bardon, yet it can work. Apparently the domestic waste recycling rate in Germany is around 70%, and much of the rest of it goes in CHP. That can also be used for the “recyclables” when no one is prepared to reprocess them.”

    @BiG- I don’t disagree whatsoever and was just saying now that China has stopped accepting them, there will need to be smarter local solutions. Waste to energy is a value add in my books, as is waste to fertiliser. We even have plastic eating bacteria these days so what’s the problem.

    “The impact of the China ban domestically already has been profound. With China out of the market, the price paid for waste in Australia has dropped from about $350 a tonne to anywhere between $50 and zero. This has had a knock-on effect at local councils, which use fees from selling collected recyclable waste to underpin the kerbside recycling effort. At the other end, waste paper and plastic that used to go to export quickly is starting to clog waste facilities. Arguments are already being made to burn the waste for energy or to bury it in landfill.”

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/china-waste-ban-what-a-load-of-rubbish/news-story/5ef145141524e67680d297e98b504020

  36. 90% of what people give a damn about their local council appears to be bin collections. It’s the first thing almost anyone mentions.
    Seems like a winner for a single issue ticket for me.

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