The Great Wheelie Bin Revolt is long overdue

Filed in Waste News by on June 18, 2009 16 Comments
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Is it time to scrap the wheelie bin?

Is it time to scrap the wheelie bin?

The good old Daily Mail eh? There’s a great story in there today about the dastardly wheelie bin and the troubles it is causing for householders across the land. Maybe if some of their readers came over here and learned how to create less waste, there wouldn’t be a problem any more 😉

One of the polls on their site asks “Should the wheelie bin be scrapped”; when I cast my vote 56% voters said no, while 44% said yes.

Here’s the scoop:

“When I was a boy, we lived in a bungalow in Essex, on a neat suburban street leading down to the railway station.

Every week the dustmen would empty our two metal bins – one for household waste, the other for the ashes from our Creda boiler.

They’d walk round the back of the house, hoist the bins on to their shoulders and, having emptied them on to their cart, would bring them back to where they belonged, behind the coal bunker.

Another man went in their wake with a broom, sweeping up anything that had fallen out and scooping it up on a giant shovel.

I can still see them now in my mind’s eye, wearing donkey jackets with heavy duty leather patches across their shoulders.

Strong men, doing men’s work. The kind of English yeomen you’d always want alongside you in a fight.

When it came to doling out Christmas boxes, the dustmen were first in line for a mince pie and a half-crown.

They were admired, stock characters in popular culture. Think Stanley Holloway’s roguish Alfred Doolittle and Lonnie Donegan’s Number One My Old Man’s A Dustman.

So how on earth did we get from there to a situation where, in Britain last year, there were a record 228 assaults on dustmen?

In Hertfordshire, an angry resident attacked a dustcart with a broom – reminiscent, as I wrote at the time, of Basil Fawlty’s manic thrashing of a dead Austin 1100.

Down in Southampton, armed police were called out after a greengrocer held a dustman hostage at gunpoint.

Only last week, we learned about a school teacher from Coventry whose punishment for making a mild complaint about her dustmen was to be barricaded in her home by 15 wheelie bins dragged from all over the neighbourhood and strategically positioned across her driveway.

What could possibly be behind this disturbing breakdown of relations between the general public and this fine body of men providing one of the most basic and valuable public services?

Here’s a clue. ‘It is not the job of our waste teams to collect wheeled bins from driveways.’ …”

Read the rest of the story by Richard LittleJohn at the Daily Mail and please do let us know what you think!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (16)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    The Daily Mail, that well know Tory rag, is always pushing negative stories about recycling, waste issues. This latest nonsense is just more of the same. Wheelie bins keep waste safe from rats, very important when collections can be missed for various reasons.

    They miss the obvious which is that we all should reduce waste and do recycling to the max. Zero Waste is designed to deal with the waste situation in a realistic, sustainable manner. Why do they never talk about this kind of positive action which will benefit the country in the long run? My cynical view is that they are simply trying to undermine the good efforts of WRAP, a government quango, for political ends.

    As for aesthetics, wheelies should be kept at the back of the house, where access is available. The problem arises where the back’s access is so often restricted. We are stuck with them until the waste issue is properly addressed in all its many facets.

    Hare-brained schemes like in this latest Daily Mail story, contribute very little to better practice. If they cannot be positive they should stay silent on the subject.

  2. Mr Green says:

    This is part of the “if-it-moves-knock-it” brigade. Before local authorities provided wheelie bins, many people complained that they had to buy their own dustbins, or leave plastic bags out that were open to attacks by vermin. Now we have neat containers provided for us, it seems that is still a problem… “Oh, the’re so heavy to move and they get left in the way of pedestrians after emptying, or block my driveway when I come home from work”.

    Actually, there is a point to some of these complaints: When I was a young boy, I do remember the dustmen as older men, who were polite, sociable and moved a lot slower on the job. Nowdays, it’s usually young men, who seem to be constantly running after the waste lorry and collecting waste as fast as possible, as if there was an incentive to finish early.

    The downside is that they regularly leave the wheelie bin on the pavement, or across driveways that obstruct pedestrians and cars.

    To add something positive to an otherwise absurd article, my only comment would be a polite request to waste collectors, Please take an extra moment to return wheelie bins carefully and not leave them across pavements, driveways and paths. These obstructions can be dangerous to pedestrians and drivers

  3. Rachel says:

    I wish they would be collected from driveways as having to leave them on public land often causes them to block the pavement for prams and wheelchairs which is more of an issue than a dustman having to take a few extra steps in my opnion.

  4. I bought the paper based on the headlines his morning to read whilst my car had its MOT.

    I started reading and got to thinking “if these people who are complaining recycled more , didn’t create as much waste in the first place there wouldn’t be a problem”.

    Then I got to the piece about blocking pavements etc, that is usually the dustment rushing after the lorry, I don’t see why the lorry couldn’t go slower or even have an extra man on to put bins back.

    Here we do have wheelie bins, I still use my old metal one but it is for keeping my kindling dry whilst outside the back door.

  5. Mr Green says:

    @Rachel: Hi Rachel, I think much of this is to do with the modern climate of blame and prosecuting people who do you wrong. If wheelie bins are collected from ‘outside’ your premises, then there can be no possibility of blame if the collector breaks your roses, knocks the garden gate of the hinges, or does other heinous damages! It’s part of our dreadful nanny state mentality where we seem to always send the blame somewhere else when things go wrong. It won’t be long before postmen are not allowed to walk on your property to deliver mail, in case they are sued for alledged damages to property.

    Don’t laugh … we are becoming more americanised with litigation opportunities every day!

  6. sandy says:

    here in deepest wales we dont have wheelie bins, we have to walk with our black sacks about 100 yards to the end of the lane. hence it is easier to recycycle and take everything to Potters yard (a local company that deals with all recycling), 12 miles away, (We also have a brillant recycling record in Powys including Tetra paks ) ,when we do our shopping. Maybe the answer is to collect all rubbish at the end of a road (only joking)

  7. Layla says:

    The article starts really well, & then gets more & more horrible!!

    “I’ve made a career over the past few years detailing the various failings of the refuse ‘service’ – a national scandal that epitomises the ghastly culture of bullying and punishment underpinning the New Labour terror.” the writer says – one DOES wonder, if he spent all that time promoting zero waste & encouraging people to recycle more & make less waste, what could be the awesome results of this?! 🙂

    I agree that some EU regulations indeed are too bureaucratic & nonsensical or unrealistic (our country accepted some of those too – like ‘all garbage has to be pre-treated’/’burnt’-?!) – still, the slant of the article is intended to induce outrage without calling to better action!!

    I KNOW that innocent old ladies can put ALL SORTS of iffy stuff into bins!! (my Gran & her pals being sometimes included! Don’t ask how many mercury thermometers she’s broken already, & some other relatives too!!) /why are mercury thermometers still sold to people who break ’em so often?! shouldn’t one like need a licence for that like for toxic pesticides?)

    A agree that it’s frustrating & enfuriating that rules are not consitent & enforced country-wide!! (about shipping to China, at least he says he ‘does his bit for environment’?? oh does he? – would love to see his bin!! :))

  8. Layla says:

    Oops, sorry for typos – way to hot in here these days!! 🙂

    *I agree* & *consistent*, that would be.. 🙂

  9. John Costigane says:

    @Mr Green: There is an inconvenience in using wheelie bins which are linked to special vehicles, with their lifting gear. The idea is really to simplify the tasks involved to aid the speed of operation. This will not revert back to old style practices, many of which would not pass Health&Safety rules.

    Good neighbourliness can help the annoyances where people, at home during the day, can take-in the neighbour’s bin(s)f for them, to aid the latter’s ease of access. That is what happens here where people do show consideration for others. Another factor is that bins left out-front are sometimes stolen.

    An architect railed against wheelie bins ‘lowering the tone’. He failed to realise that the design of some buildings did not take into account their almost universal use. Blame the architects.

  10. Rachel says:

    @Mr Green: I’m not laughing, i’m afraid you might be right.

  11. Poppy says:

    I scanned the article last night and in their defence, I have to say that this wasn’t just about refuse bins, this was about the collection of bins that people are now expected to accomodate; often when they have no direct road access or garden to store them in.

  12. I have a feeling that those dust bin men of days gone by might not be so nostalgic when remembering the heavy manual labour they were forced to undertake. Who are we to get irate about carrying our waste to the curb? It’s only the curb! You pass it every day. It’s not like we have to burn garbage in our back yard or walk it 10 miles to transfer station. We are LUCKY to have garbage pick up. It is a convenience, not a right. Let’s take a little responsibility for how much we’re producing.

    Whoa, that came off a little more intense than I intended.

  13. I think wherever you sit in this argument, one thing for sure is that the public and the bin collectors have both got a part to play in this.

    Having been on a bin round, I know how hard it is for the folk charged with the job. Yes I know they’re paid and they choose to do it – but that doesn’t matter. It’s a job that when you get out of the cab is not at all pleasant, not least the dealing with dirty bins, there’s dead animals and all sorts. And there’s also the stick that they have to take because they are also the people who are at the front-end of council policies. They do not set the rules, but they are the ones who take the abuse from the folk who are hacked off. And unfortunately there are times when this gets out of hand, and on occasion leads to violent threats and attacks from angry members of the public. If we’re talking about a war on waste, I guess the binmen are the infantry being led by the generals in the council cabinet rooms.

    However, it does not excuse their behaviour, and no matter what irritations are placed locally, they should always respect the locality and access to people’s homes and work with their generals to accept a level of “sensible” flexibility.

    Wheelie bins are un ugly sight and a controversial topic, especially in built up areas and in Bury St Edmunds where I live, there are often complaints in the local press about them bringing down the tone of a gentrified area. But our council works closely with the complainants to sort out the issues. They provide bags in many areas where the architecture is terraced and where a wheelie bin on the street would be an obstacle.

    As a taxpayer, I would rather drag my wheelie bin to the edge of the road, if I know by doing so, it makes the bin round more effective and cheaper on our council tax bills. I wouldn’t want to pay extra costs for bin men to walk up resident’s drives, for those who are capable of placing them in situe themselves.

    I suppose it comes down to respect from both sides, respect from the public to support and work with the council to improve services. And respect from ALL parts of the council to work with resident’s frustrations.

    And at the core of this comes education. And if the Daily Mail actually cares about helping the problem, they could use their pages to help educate their readers as opposed to using the headlines to add fuel to the fire. Approached in an entertaining way, it would be one step in the right direction and would be a worthwhile cause for them to support.

    P.S. Jen..I think I’ve joining you in the “Whoa, that came off a little more intense than I intended.”

    I’m boogering off now for my breakfast. 😀

    • Jaq says:

      I agree with all your points, Mrs Average. I am also jealous that you are lucky enough to live in a place where the council understands the inappropriateness of wheelie bins for locations where houses are terraced or divided into flats, most of which don’t have any accessible outside space for bin/rubbish storage.

      I live in Bristol, where the council issues large wheelie bins regardless to the huge majority of these kinds of properties. The result? Beautiful Bristol streets are littered (oh, the irony) with wheelie bins left permanently on the pavements or out the front of properties. Whatever you think of them, wheelie bins are terribly ugly, dirty (whereas when people owned and stored their own bins in their own gardens, most people looked after them and kept them clean, now there’s no ownership and they’re on the pavement so ‘not my responsibility’) and a nuisance when obstructing a pavement.

      If councils are really in favour of encouraging people to recycle more, why insist on using and issuing such large bins to all?? Why can’t wheelie bins be smaller and better designed aesthetically?? And if that’s not within anyone’s ability to do, why can’t councils be more intelligent about where standard wheelie bin use is genuinely appropriate and where it is not?

  14. Sue says:

    I actually love my wheelie bin for garden waste more than trying to stuff twigs and grass into black bin liners. I prefer the wheelie bin versus the horrid black paper waste and black glass waste boxes the council have given us. They are awkward and heavy to lift with easily lost lids unlike the hinged wheelie bin lids. Who designed these awful user unfriendly boxes? Also the wheelie bins don’t blow into the road like the council boxes do. My local council has given us some black bags to last until september when a half sized blue house hold wheelie bin, plus box for plastics and box for metals will be issued to everyone. So even more heavy boxes to carry to the curb each week groan. Since they aren’t giving householders plastic liners for the wheelie bin will it be ok to put waste in it without one or will i be in trouble? We get two dustcarts down the road each week now instead of one for the different waste. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to put more recycling centres around instead of doorstop collections?

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