The council's fault? (In this case probably yes, it's a pile of rubbish collected together to make a single collection point.)

Several weeks ago I posed the question does the council actually hinder people doing the right thing? The example offered publicly in the comments (and by email from someone else) was on our policy of charging to collect bulky items.

I’ve never been directly involved in our refuse policy. But I’m not afraid of idly speculating to cover my ignorance, so I’ll carry on regardless.

Obviously the council is aware that by charging, we run the risk of people fly tipping. There is, to use the economic term, price elasticity. Some people won’t pay, and will fly tip whatever the price (and some even if it were free). Most people will pay if it’s a reasonable amount, but as the fee increases so does the proportion of people who will just dump their rubbish illegally. The judgment is where that price covers the cost of the service (or as much as possible) without seeing the income wiped out by increased fly tipping.

But moving on from the charge, I think there are valid points in the comment about the complex rules surrounding waste collection:

Now does the previous owner’s dismantled desk that they left in our cellar count as 1 piece of furniture, or should i saw it up into 3 standard sized sacks? And if i did would they still weigh less than 25kg and how would I even know? What about the spare kitchen cabinet panels, scraps of carpet or broken pane of glass? It makes my head hurt!

Wouldn’t 1 fee be easier? Or small/medium/large collection fee? Or 1-yearly free collection?

Also when people try to do the right thing and then can’t find the information they’re looking for on the council website because it’s rubbish, I’d say that stops good behaviour.

It is, I think, a consequence of a bureaucracy (a word I always use neutrally) that it is rule-bound and, therefore, tends to think everyone and thing else is rule-bound. What’s the betting those rules are there because there restrictions on lifting heavy items? So, we have to protect our staff and contractors from potential injury and do that by passing on the rule to the resident, never thinking that many people have no way of weighing heavy items.

Going further, I wonder why we are even collecting a lot of bulky items. When we tried to dispose of a fridge we paid the bulky collection fee only for someone to steal it from our garden the day before collection. I know the fridge itself had no value as a fridge (I’d even managed to pull one of the doors off when removing it) so can only guess it had some scrap value. Why aren’t we investigating whether scrap merchants would consider taking on some of these collections for us? Or charities? Despite frowning on their use of chuggers the British Heart Foundation in Wandsworth will collect furniture and electrical items for resale in their shops.

However, when you look at the council’s page on using others it manages to contain, within five bullet-points, two references to prosecution, the need to check (with another agency) waste collection registration and the potential need for advance authorisation to take things to the tip. Not something that encourages alternative disposal methods!

And finally, I sometimes wonder if we are too good at clearing up. There are a few fly tipping hot-spots in my patch and, speaking to officers, discovered that, at times, they collect daily from them. But what impact does this have? Residents might appreciate the clean streets, they might be impressed that the dumping they see in the morning removed by the evening. But might they also think that next time they have something they need to get rid of there’s an easy route? Some might not even realise it isn’t a legitimate service!

I once suggested that we just stop collecting for a week, to see what happens. We’d tell everyone that’s what we were doing, and then use the accumulated rubbish as an example: it isn’t just for the council to remove the rubbish, it’s also for people to stop dumping it, and pass on information when they see others doing it.

Increasingly I’m seeing the way the council should operate is not as a service provider, but as a party to a contract. In this example, we agree to keep the streets as tidy as we can, and residents agree not to dump rubbish and help us find those that do. We could even bring in others, like the BHF, to play their part and give them opportunity to raise money. There are huge areas of life where residents, business and charities, as well as the council, all could have a role to play if we moved away from a simple service delivery model and towards a mature relationship where we all recognised the part we play, effectively a Wandsworth contract. Would you sign it?