Wrong bins in the wrong way

Jason by an overflowing communal bin

I believe the proposal for communal bins that Brighton & Hove’s Tory Administration waved through at their Cabinet Meeting last night is the wrong proposal being put forward in the wrong way. I’m not against communal bins on principle – but these ones in this way are not what our city needs.

Their introduction follows a flawed consultation process which did not meet the Cabinet Office’s code of practice for consultations — which applies to local authorities as much as it does to ministers. The consultation was run for barely a month when the minimum time set down by the code is 12 weeks. The code requires consultations to be provided online but this one wasn’t. A number of my constituents never received the consultation or saw only one for a building with multiple households. Allowing online responses could have helped remedy this.

More fundamentally however the Conservative communal bins do not deal with the key challenges waste and street tidyness pose for our city. Of course I want to see cleaner streets – who doesn’t? But I keep seeing and keep receiving photos of existing communal bins attracting mess, fly tipping, dumping and graffiti.

Binvelopes (the foldable containers to protect bin bags from attack by foxes and seagulls) were ruled out as being only a short term measure yet just a few weeks ago the use of binvelopes was expanded in the Hanover part of our city. How can they make sense there but not in Regency ward?

The nub of the matter lies with recycling however. There is already a problem with the existing communal bins — whenever I pass and look in I see lots of recyclables amidst the bin bags: cardboard, paper, glass, plastics. Surely it’s human nature to go for the path of least resistance. If people don’t have space to store rubbish in their flats then the same applies for recyclables. Yet the council expects residents to sit on recyclables for a week but chuck rubbish whenever they like into the big communal bins which are emptied six days a week.

A 2004 University of Brighton study commissioned by the council examined the waste in the communal bins trial. The study found that 42% of the waste in the bins was recyclable (under the current, quite limited recycling scheme available) and a further 21% was food based waste. This was in an areas where weekly kerbside recycling was already in operation.

So we know that 63% of the waste in the bins could be dealt with in alternative ways. We are told a new waste strategy is being developed to bolster our weak recycling levels. We have expanded recycling facilities coming online shortly that will be able to process a wider range of materials than ever before. So why rush the bins in before all this and risk taxpayer money on increasing landfill charges as recyclables are chucked out?

I also feel that the administration have not been sensitive in locating these bins. I have had correspondence from some residents extremely distressed by the thought of having smelly, noisy bins outside their homes possibly blocking their natural light. We have many streets in beautiful conservation areas that house a low density population which are clearly opposed to having these bins. The council’s conservation policy and local plan both clearly put a duty on the council to ‘preserve or enhance the character or appearance’ of our conservation areas and so we should allow opt-outs for the sake of our most beautiful streets and when residents clearly won’t support the scheme.

In summary, we have a proposal that is based on:

  • A flawed consultation,
  • doesn’t deal with mess but attracts it,
  • isn’t sensitive to conservation areas and won’t allow opt-outs,
  • and rips the heart out of our recycling programme — 63% of the waste in the communal bins could have been dealt with by recycling and composting.

I would like to see a new plan which isn’t rushed ahead of the waste strategy — who heard of implementation before the strategy is written? Show me a plan which properly considers the human, conservation and environmental impacts of its proposals and I’ll happily support it.

Cllr Theobald claimed that his plans would have ‘No negative impact on recycling’ and so there would be no additional landfill tax liability. This flies in the face of the council’s own studies.

Yes, we need cleaner streets. But we urgently need to recycle far more than we do today – this was the wrong proposal in the wrong way.