February 16, 2004
Greener Brent

If you ever ride the buses of suburban London you can’t help but notice the fact that “wheelie-bins” are everywhere. (Click here to see a wheelie-bin in the context of contemporary suburban London architecture.) In my part of London, along the path of Route79 - you are rarely ever a few metres away from a standard Brent Council-issued wheelie bin. Waste collection is taken seriously in London - by both councils and council-tax-payers. The issue better had be taken seriously - after all most people seem to associate their extortionately high rates of Council Tax with the collection of waste piled up in wheelie-bins.

Now - the UK has always been woefully behind many other more forward-thinking countries when it comes to the recycling of domestic waste. And my theory is that there is always not much of an incentive to do so. And that’s because the majority of us are a selfish, lazy, unconscientious bunch. For example - a few years ago, Brent Council issued environmentally friendly “Green Boxes” to every household in the borough. The idea being that instead of throwing certain types of waste in your wheelie-bin (e.g. newspaper, bottles, cardboard etc.) you put it in the Green Box and every week a special recycling truck comes around to collect it - and presumably recycle it. However - where’s the incentive? At least, where’s the “instantly-gratificationable” incentive? Never mind the fact the Green Box probably “flew away” and got lost from your front garden doorstep the last time there was a gale-force wind - the fact is that you could equally place such recycleable waste in the standard wheelie-bin and it didn’t make any difference at all on the surface: it got collected and removed along with all the other regular household waste. For the unconscientious majority - the Green Box was a waste of effort - if you still had one.

Well - it seems that, finally, an incentive to recycle certain types of waste has been found. The following letter from Brent Council appeared through my letterbox today:

According to the above - the incentive is patronisingly clear: if you dump garden waste in your “standard” wheelie-bin - it will NOT be taken away. So - you must dump it in the green one instead. The waste in the green wheelie-bin will be taken for composting. This is the incentive - it forces the homeowner to separate the waste properly - otherwise it won’t be taken away. Big cheer to Brent Council’s Environmental Services department!

I think this is fantastic. I wonder if there are any other London boroughs (or UK counties) doing the same sort of thing? Perhaps Brent is slow off the mark? I dunno - it’s a step in the right direction - but the cynic in me suggests that there will be a major protest at this scheme: homeowners protesting at the fact that YET ANOTHER wheelie-bin has to blight the pretty front gardens of suburban London. At least in Brent’s case - it’s not so bad: most homeowners around here are Indian/Asian - which means that aesthetic-looking front gardens are not a priority. Most are concreted and paved over to make way for off-road car-parking anyway! From these residents there will be little protest I am sure, for the Green Wheelie bin will not only serve a useful, entirely functional, purpose - but they will also ensure that your garden waste gets taken away. Problem is - like I said: most Indian/Asian households don’t generate garden waste .…

Ah - the irony.

Posted by jag at February 16, 2004 07:30 PM

Down here in Lambeth, we have the green recycling boxes, and they do get used. We also have a few glass recycling bins (outside Tesco in Brixton). We don’t have garden recycling bins, but the coucil will come and take away large items including garden waste on request, up to 8 times a year for no extra charge.Useful when you’ve had a clearout and end up with 15 bags of rubbish.

As for Brent, how are they going to know that you haven’t put garden waste in the normal bin? Are they going to check through every bin before they take it away?

Posted by: Nigel on February 16, 2004 09:48 PM

I might just post about that.

Posted by: stroppycow on February 16, 2004 10:35 PM

Hi Nigel - your description of Lambeth is exactly how it is today in brent - except I very rarely see the Green Boxes being used. And as for the great big recycling bins outside Tesco - they are here as well - outside Asda, outside Safeway and outside the Aldi on our High Street - and I do see these being used - a lot.

I also wonder how the council will “check” for the “wrong” waste being put in the “wrong” bin. Perhaps indeed the binmen will check the contents of each bin for superficial signs of the wrong waste?

Posted by: Jag on February 16, 2004 10:38 PM

Actually that’s one thing Worcester seems to get right above London boroughs (okay, it’s the only thing grin). We have to buy our own bins, but we get all our bin liners given free. Once a week we have normal rubbish collection, and every other week you get a collection (at the same time) for paper/materials and cans/foil/plastic(grade 1&2 only). They’re proper size bin liners and you don’t have a limit as to how many you put out (although the amount of free liners per month is restricted though generous).

The scheme has been a huge success - mainly because it’s so simple and very little effort. None of those silly little green boxes you can only fit 2 newspapers in if you’re lucky.

Posted by: Pewari on February 16, 2004 11:21 PM

Pewari: sounds interesting - I wonder why they don’t do that everywhere? It sounds so much more like common-sense to me. Alas …
I suppose there has to be some reasons why NOT living in London is better .… :-)

Posted by: Jag on February 17, 2004 01:06 AM

Probably the bins are not for garden waste but vegetable waste, which are generated in quite a large amount while cooking Indian food.

Posted by: sat on February 17, 2004 04:48 AM

Yes Jag, you just have to look more carefully for the benefits ;) Just don’t mention broadband … grrr!

Posted by: Pewari on February 17, 2004 01:27 PM

OK, it’s about thirty years since I lived in your neck of the woods, but one thing I do vaguely remember is gardens. In fact they were generally huge compared to the handkerchief-sized bits that were found in the ugly new town we moved to. So if you’ve got a garden and it’s not paved over for the car, then surely you can use the garden waste you generate to make your own compost, and any organic kitchen waste as well. If it is paved over and you don’t like doing gardening in whatever is left, then you don’t generate garden waste. Not sure I understand this.

Posted by: David on February 17, 2004 02:55 PM

Sat: I agree with you - but the letter from the Council explictly states “GARDEN WASTE ONLY” - and then goes on to give examples of what that means. No examples of organic kitchen waste.

Pew: I bought my most recent home - with Broadband Internet as a mjor buying criteria. In other words - if I couldn’t get broadband - it wasn’t worth buying!

David: I agree with you completely - if you have a (non-paved-over) garden then it’s a great idea to make your own compost. The only problem is that the council byelaws in most parts of the country have very strict rules and regulations on self-composting - e.g. minimum distance between compost-heap and house structure etc. Believe me - check out:


So - domestic composting is just too much hassle for most homeowners in dense urban areas of London - and hence the “Green Wheelie-Bin” scheme that councils like Brent are introducing. They come and take your garden waste away for you - and take it to a mass composting centre. The thing that they really want to avoid is contamination from stuff that should NOT be composted - e.g. Kentucky Fried Chicken waste etc. - which many ignorant householders might classify as “kitchen waste” - so rather than run the risk of animal by-product contamination - they say “no kitchen waste at all please - just garden waste only”.

And you’re right - the irony I was highlighting was the fact that many households in Brent have paved-over gardens and don’t generate a great deal of garden waste - so I cannot imagine (except for some summer months when hedges get trimmed) a lot of garden waste being generated for mass composting! So - I can bet you that many households in Brent will simply be blighted by Green Wheelie-Bins that are empty most of the time - and that’s in addition to the existing “grey” wheelie-bins and the un-incentivised Green Boxes that we already have!

Posted by: Jag on February 17, 2004 09:28 PM

Well that puts paid to my brilliant idea of getting cremated (when the time comes) and then strewn all over the rosebed to rise again in all my thorny glory the following summer.

Posted by: David on February 17, 2004 10:21 PM

In Ealing we have had the green boxes for years and they are very popular, but, they don’t take plastic or cardboard and there is nowhere else for these to be recycled in the borough. I used to give all my plastic to my Dad who lived in Hillingdon where they had special plastic collections. The difference it made to the amount of rubbish was phenomenal but when I enquired in Ealing they said it was not worth doing. As for garden rubbish from last year we have had to purchase (at 50p each) pink bags for garden recycling which are collected once a fortnight between March and November. The bags are tiny (half black bag size) and very weak, unfortunately they also biodegrade really quickly. My Mum had a couple of bags of garden waste left just before Christmas but the bags have completely disintegrated. Brent are good doing it for nothing and taking cardboard. We also don’t have wheelie bins just black bags that the foxes rip open on their nightly jaunts in the neighbourhood.

Posted by: clockendkaty on February 20, 2004 11:26 PM

clockendkaty: It’s amazing that there is so much variation in the types of service between the boroughs in london isn’t it?
Those bio-degradable bags sound like they’re more of a problem than a convenience!
I have to admit that Brent are quite good - we now have two Wheelie Bins and a Green Box. We now just have to figure out where to put them all!

Posted by: Jag on February 21, 2004 10:20 AM
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