Anne Marie Waters
Sunday 14th March 2021
One of the most common issues I’m hearing about from residents as I campaign for local elections in May, is rubbish! People are tired of rubbish-strewn streets and who can blame them? I spoke in my Facebook livestream this week about this very issue. You can watch it here.
I’ve since found an old article from ITV, dated 2017. This discusses Hartlepool Council’s “Clean and Green Strategy Plan” which was to take place over a 3 year period. Needless to say, here we are in 2021, and we are not clean nor green; our parks are still strewn with rubbish, as are our beaches and streets.
The article highlights so-called ‘Bigbelly Bins’. These are solar-powered, and apparently contain a compacting system allowing the bin to take eight times as much waste as a normal bin. It also cleverly lets the council know when it needs emptying.
Just fifteen of these cost the council £90,000 of the taxpayers’ money.
Now to the reality. A walk down the beachfront at Seaton Carew, where the first bins were located, will reveal it. The bins are overflowing. The seagulls are still picking at them. Clearly the council isn’t emptying them as they become filled. It hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked because it is a gimmick and a nod to pet PC projects like solar power, not a common sense solution to the problem of excess rubbish.
This is by no means exclusive to Hartlepool. This is the kind of response we see up and down the country as politicians follow fads and not the interests of their residents. As you browse through local council websites throughout the UK, something jumps out; rubbish collections have dropped and “green” has gone through the roof.
Almost every council has committed itself to being ‘greener’, but while it does so, it collects less rubbish and its streets get dirtier. There’s nothing ‘green’ about it. Household waste collection has dropped in nearly every part of the country in the last decade, and extra burdens have been placed on households. For example, many of us are now expected to strictly separate our rubbish. This usually applies to rubbish that will be ‘recycled’ and rubbish that will not. Most authorities provide two bins for this; to be collected alternately (i.e. fortnightly for each bin). But what actually happens to the household waste we separate for ‘recycling’?
I think many people would be surprised to learn the answer – it’s exported to other countries.
Back in 2019, the BBC published a comprehensive report on what happens to the UK’s waste. Firstly, councils were reported to be burning 80% of household rubbish, including ‘recycling’.
The Western Riverside Waste Authority, which covers Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth and Wandsworth, incinerated 79% as did Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. Slough, Kirklees, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Birmingham councils all incinerated at least 70% of all plastic, paper and household rubbish.
Swindon Borough Council said in November it wants to burn plastic along with other rubbish rather than sending it abroad for recycling – saying some “isn’t properly recycled”.
Where was most of our ‘recycling’ going? China. For the record, China is the world’s worst offender on plastic pollution. It is among a few countries previously named as dumping millions of tonnes of plastic in to our oceans every year. Is it possible then that we were paying China to ‘recycle’ our rubbish, but instead, it just threw it in the ocean? Is it possible that cost of this pollution was then passed on to the already struggling UK taxpayer in the form of yet more council tax rises? (We all know the answer).
China’s role ended however in recent years when it refused to take any more. We now send it to other countries in Asia. Malaysia for example has seen a big increase from us. Plans to do more at home are not coming to fruition as recycling companies complain they don’t have funding. Despite promises from the Tory government in 2018 that this would improve, there are little signs of it (and not much information available).
But there is another element to this. While we are facing a crisis of waste, our oceans becoming more and more toxic, and our council taxes continuing to rise, the big retail giants are doing nothing at all to bring down the levels of waste they are responsible for.
During the lockdown, Amazon has sky-rocketed. Have you ever received a product from Amazon in packaging that is completely unnecessary? I certainly have. Products arrive in boxes that are far too large; the amount of cardboard used is sometimes ridiculous. Often it will be in two separate pieces of packaging! The same applies to a variety of products. I recently bought a set of headphones (music helps while leafleting!) and it arrived in its own little plastic box, inside another plastic container, inside an entirely too large cardboard box. Why?
In the supermarkets, it’s a similar story. Food products in a variety of packaging that is simply not needed, yet the supermarket giants are not called upon to fix this problem. Instead, the powers that be increase council taxes and ship it off to Asia for much of it to be thrown in the ocean.
It is scandalous.
To clarify a few things:
- We must clean up our planet.
- Shipping our unnecessary rubbish off to Asia is not going to achieve this.
- We must reduce the rubbish in the first place by making big companies reduce their packaging.
- In the meantime, let’s drop the “solar bin” gimmicks and use that money to take waste off our streets by collecting it weekly and investing in British recycling.
The ‘green’ campaigners are right about one thing, we only have one planet and there isn’t another one in reserve. But why must the over-burdened taxpayer, who has no power over any of this, pick up the tab while giants like Amazon continue to spew out tonnes of unnecessary packaging and are never called upon to stop? Because it would cost Amazon too much and it’s easier to place the burden on the shoulders of the public? Yes. That’s exactly it.
Those who govern us seem to love a gimmick, but they don’t achieve anything. Seaton Carew in Hartlepool, despite these fancy bins, still has far too much rubbish. What’s needed is more rubbish collection, which means the council re-routing its cash to that, not “solar bins”. We also need to provide more and better rubbish tips to end the scourge of fly-tipping, but again, resources are not appropriately allocated.
Finally, we have to stop placing the burden for all this on the taxpayer. Local councils are not using our money as they should, and as I described in detail on my Facebook livestream, they continue to pay themselves a fortune while their gimmicks fail and tonnes of completely unnecessary waste continue to poison our oceans and kill wildlife.
It seems to me that it is local council officials, and their bank accounts, that are the only ones really cleaning up!
Anne Marie Waters
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