Waste Management

March 30th, 2015

wasteThis is a cautionary tale wrapped up in a rant with a little bit of a lesson on how not to design public services. Really a significant part of this just highlights my inability to follow basic instructions but, you know, there might be some wider relevance in here somewhere.

In Birmingham we’ve just had wheelie bins handed out. As a pre-election give away they’re not great, mainly because they seem to really annoy a significant section of the population. I was quite pleased when the Council announced their delivery as I thought it would make my life just a little bit easier. I had underestimated the Council’s ability to implement a mess.

One part of a new recycling system is a mixed use bin. This is handy as it means we don’t have to keep two recycling boxes around. It’s also handy as when we put our recycling out it doesn’t get caught in the wind vortex outside our house and redistribute it across everyone’s garden. I suppose it must be quite common but our bins work by having the larger bin and a smaller pod that hangs just inside the lid. According to the instructions the pod is for paper and cardboard and the rest of the bin for bottles….. and other stuff.

In our house just about everything we buy comes via the Internet which means in a fortnight we can generate a lot of cardboard. Looking at our new bin it was really obvious that the pod thing was never going to hold the cardboard we need to get rid of. Equally we only recycle enough bottles to cover the bottom of the bin. So I decided to adapt the system. Nothing controversial, I just reversed the process to put my bottles in the pod and cardboard in the bin. As a result of this it seems I’m breaking the law.

I got this letter last week pointing out that because I’m not presenting my waste “correctly” I could get an £80 fine.

I don’t really have a problem with there being a “correct” way to present waste but there is surely a better way of encouraging compliance. Possibly explaining why their way is “correct”.

I’ve been told that it is permissible for me to load up my bin in the way the Council advise and then just dump excess cardboard in the street next to it. Which seems a ludicrous suggestion as it just makes the problem these bins were designed to solve much worse than the previous system.

There is an important lesson that when you design a service you need to sit down and look at how people use it; then you build in flexibility because it is a public service. That means you engage with people and encourage compliance rather than demand it. If people are doing it wrong you don’t just threaten to fine them.

I’m not going to make some sort of symbolic stand on this as I don’t really care that much (yes, just hit 500 words on this thing I don’t care about) but I do think it’s a good example of how public services completely misunderstand what their relationship with the public is.


Posted in Birmingham | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Waste Management”

  1. John Grayland Says:

    Same thing happened to me last week. They refused to take any of it away, left me an awful lot of cardboard. Thanks BCC. I know it’s petty but I really dislike our labour leaders right now.

  2. Ann Says:

    I’ve watched the waste collection on our road – the smaller pod is tipped into the larger bin by an advance party of workers before the whole bin is tipped into the lorry so it seems there is no point in separating the recycling anyway. Maybe we have maverick rule breaking refuse collectors on our road but I suspect this is how in practice it works. How weird that they would threaten you with a fine! ps it seems quite sad to admit I have watched the waste collection – in my defence it is not something I pencil into my diary every week.

  3. Daz Says:

    Hi Ann,

    Thanks for mentioning that. I too was watching this the other day and realised that it makes absolutely no sense. Their do seem to be two compartments on most of the recycling trucks with a small one for bottles and larger one for cardboard. If they’ve designated the largest compartment for cardboard then that’s a tacit admission that there will be a greater volume of it. The only reason the system exists as it does is because they’ve decided to attach one of their own bins to back of the truck which pods are emptied into.

    I did go home and explained all this very excitedly to my wife, then realised it was a bit sad. I decided not to write another blog post on this but now I know that at least one person shares my interest…..

  4. Daz Wright » Blog Archive » Rubbish Savings Says:

    […] this is about bins again. I hated myself for writing about bins this time last year. As an aside, the Council refused to be flexible about that so we’ve largely given up […]

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