Rubbish and the People’s Republic

We are very good citizens in my flat. We nobly take it upon ourselves to drink as much beer as possible in the interests of being able to recycle our collective bodyweight once a week in tinnies. Undeterred are we by our official demographic classification as young female problem binge drinkers. We recycle about half our rubbish, which is pretty good going given that we don’t actually have a recycling collection and have to tout it along to North Finchley under our own steam, or, in fact, petrol.

Under the government’s “pay as you throw” scheme, originally proposed last May as part of the “Waste Strategy for England 2007”, which would tax people on the amount of rubbish they failed to recycle, I reckon we’d come out smelling of Dettol. But it seems there won’t be a need for  extra push in rinsing out the Dolmio jars because, in the words of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Communities, Local Government and That Sort of Thing, the government has now “mounted a whole-hearted retreat from even the limited policy set out last May”. If you can’t quite bear to read the whole 34-page report (you funny old thing), the Torygraph summarises:

Members of the Commons local government committee described plans for just five pilot schemes, beginning in 2009, as a “messy compromise” and accused the Government of a “loss of courage” in the face of criticism.

Cool beans, I say. The third biggest thing wrong with the idea was the embedding of microchips into wheelie bins, which as a vignette on the loss of privacy is just comically grotesque. The second biggest thing wrong was the fact that no-one controls what rubbish comes into their house. Until you tax supermarkets on surrounding their products with all this guff in the first place, you have no right whatever to tax individuals on what they then do to get rid of it. Some (yes, you!) will mention market correction at this point. To this, I say pfah! I also say that waiting for the market to correct and supermarkets to catch on would be unacceptably messy here, because by then certain levels of revenue would have come to be expected of the scheme, and the shortfalls as packaging reduced would be made up god knows how – but we can safely assume, not through corporation tax.

The biggest and most important thing wrong with the idea is that it wouldn’t work, and I’ll tell you why. We don’t have a wheelie bin, nor do any of the other five flats in this building, nor the further eighteen flats in this block, nor the thirty odd further up the road. Because we live over the shops, you see, and don’t have a driveway or a garden path or a kerb amongst the lot of us. At certain predefined times of the day we are permitted to take our rubbish out onto the Queen’s Highway and leave it by the smart little black and gold Haringey street bin (which does to be honest make one feel slightly like a scroat. It’s like when I’m buying gas in the newsagents and all the middle class mummies around me who thought I was One of Them freeze in shock and edge little Daisy and Isabella away from me).

But we’re talking about a small row of buildings – what about big estates? Most of them have communal bins – who is to say which households are recycling and thus deserve the “rewards” and which are naughty stinky poo-poo households who should get taxed? Are they just going to let everyone with any of sort of communal bin arrangement off? Somehow, I really doubt it. After all, it never works in reverse – my flatmate’s car got towed recently and she was warned she’d have to keep it on “private property” until she could get it re-registered and the tax renewed. Have you ever tried to explain to someone in Swansea what it’s like to live in a second-floor flat in London? It took us the entire morning and eighteen phone calls to find someone we knew who had some private sodding property.

Given that these sorts of problems will exist everywhere where communal front doors exist, I can’t be all that sorry that this scheme has been dramatically reduced. And given that I am, by most standards, a greenie control freak who would be quite happy to BAN cars from central London (apparently that’s “not liberal”, they tell me), that is saying something.


  1. The last three flats I’ve lived in have had communal bins and would have had exactly the same problem. Too often the state (by which I loosely mean civil servants) forgets the sheer variety of different ways people live their lives and imposes a one-size-fits-all scheme that tries to treat us all as identical. That generally means we all living in houses, and we all have cars and TVs and kids.

    It’s silly things like being forced to make 18 phone calls or your local post office closing or the annoying film lid that won’t come your roast joint tray in one piece that impact on your quality of life significantly more than, well, other stuff.

  2. Just as well we care about Child Tax Credits and fuel duties and the absolute inalienable right of “hardworking families” to be top of everyone’s list out of the sheer goodness of our overworked, priced-out hearts really, isn’t it 😦 Bitter, moi?

    “Other stuff” can be a right pisser as well, mind.

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