Saturday, 11 June 2011

The economics of refuse collection

It is, paradoxically, good news that Eric Pickles has failed in an effort to force local councils to collect domestic refuse every week. Not that weekly collection, or even daily collection, is a bad thing, but it is no business of central government, and certainly no business of the EU, to micromanage local arrangements for refuse collection and disposal. 

For decades, the unit costs of refuse collection in real terms have fallen. Initially, in response to high labour costs, dustbins were no longer collected from back doors but had to be moved to the edge of the curtilage for collection. Then black sacks* at the edge of curtilage, then black sacks at edge of footway, then wheely bins at edge of footway. At the same time refuse freighters got bigger and were fitted with compactors to reduce the number of trips to discharge. Now that transport and fuel costs are the challenge, economies are being made with the freighters themselves. These long-run cost adjustments saw the annual cost of refuse collection fall to around £30 per household - the price of a couple of cinema tickets. Not bad in anyone's book. And there were no appreciable economies of scale; the minimum economic size of a refuse collection round is one that keeps one crew and one vehicle fully employed and further savings from running 1,000 are marginal. So a perfect local service.
It was, of course, the EU that distorted the whole thing to the great cost of British householders. First with recycling targets, and then with landfill reduction targets. Recycling targets have pretty well doubled collection costs - to collect separate waste streams you need pretty well twice as many vehicles and crews for the same overall mass of refuse. Or you need to halve collection frequency with the same fleet. Landfill targets have hit disposal costs with the imposition of a punitive landfill tax. The offsetting income from the sale of recycled material has been minimal, and certainly hasn't covered the increased collection and disposal costs.

The positive externalities, the environmental benefits, simply don't stack up. Firstly, there's absolutely no shortage of landfill in the UK. Secondly, much of the waste collected as 'recyclable' isn't. It's either too contaminated or too poor quality to be sold, or there's no market for it, or even that (councils being institutionally dim-witted) it actually degrades the environment. Councils converting collected garden waste to compost, for example, in open windrowed heaps are actually causing 16x more dangerous greenhouse gas (methane) to be emitted  than had the householder burned it on a back-garden bonfire (CO2). So massive volumes of 'recyclable' material actually ends up in landfill. The only reason it's collected is that the EU counts the %age of recyclable waste collected, not the %age of waste recycled. Once you've collected your target, you can tick the box and dump it to landfill. 

Let's hope for a long, hot, sweltering Summer with several 'Unite' strikes thrown in; as putrescent waste rots into a heaving mass of maggots and stench in the fortnightly wheely bins and overflowing waste spills fox-strewn across the footways with used nappies stuck to the soles of householders' trainers and black clouds of bluebottles filling every kitchen. Only then will the real impact of the EU on ordinary lives be apparent. 

*I once sat in an Edinburgh tea room to overhear two elderly Morningside ladies discussing whether they were getting enough 'blaeck sex'. After spluttering my coffee I worked out they were not discussing ebony lovin'. 


I don't really know Rita said...

I think the only way the to get the 'Great British Public' to realise what a malign force the EU is, would be for Eastenders/Corrie/X-Poptastic-Dancing on Thin Ice, to be taken off air, and for 16ft (sorry, 5 metre) high neon signs to be errected informing people that the tv companies are merely obeying an EU directive .

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

I have been saying much the same to anybody who'll listen for some years.

One thing I did see (sorry, can't find a link) was that some enterprising Canadians had redefined landfill, re-titling it something like "interim biogas production facility" and capped the rubish and run some chug chug generators off the methane.

Win - win? = No landfill tax and ROCs all round for gween lekky?

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

I should add that I pointed out to my local councils' rubbish boss, the foolishness and unnecessary expense of "gold plating" EU waste directives when many of our neighours across the channel were in many cases simply ignoring them.

His response was that perhaps we were "a little bit too enthusiastic" interpreting and implementing documents emanating from Brussels. Not'arf pal...

Woodsy42 said...

What's this 'footway' thingy, I open directly to an A road so they can have it on my property or blocking the traffic.

Anonymous said...

This is well worth viewing.

Geert Wilders and Oscar Freysinger in the Netherlands
Posted on June 11, 2011 by Eeyore

After discusiing the issue of Islam in Europe, then the EU, and then to Direct democracy.

Anonymous said...

Dave says we're all better off in the EU - so that's alright for me, if only..... I could control my manic larfter?

So it doesn't matter if every diktat and edict emanating from the Brussel's whack jobs is bonkers - I know it is being rigorously enacted by the council/central gov/quangocrat SS - like the Ukrainain SS 'Galizien', they were worse than the damn Teutonic versions.

Who is the problem? Is it the EU or our apparats? - My reading of it is, it is our Politicians and pro EU bureaucrats who are our main enemy - sort them out and problem sorted.
Why don't we just say; "Fork Off and Smartly!"... to the ferkin lot of them?

Is that such a difficult ask?

English Pensioner said...

I simply wonder about the economics of wheelie bins. My council provides plastic bags, we put them at the kerb side on the appointed day, and the collection truck moves at walking pace down the street with two collectors running at the trot throwing the bags in the back. There is never a traffic jam behind the truck and they clear our street in a matter of minutes. Paper, bottles and cans are collected in a similar manner from the boxes, the truck never seems to stop!
Loading wheelie bins takes far longer, push them to the truck, hook them on, activate the mechanism, lower the bin, and push it back to the gate. There is always a traffic jam whenever I encounter one of these trucks, which are used by the adjoining council.
If plastic bags aren't green, neither are the trucks used to empty wheelie bins!

Domain registration said...

Really a well written post. Thanks for sharing.

John Page said...

Following on from English Pensioner:

In our borough we are encouraged to bag our landfill refuse before we put it in the wheelie bin. Then the dustman lifts the bags out and tosses them on the lorry!

Mike Cunningham said...

Point One.

John Page may have not realised his ghastly error, but to write, on a comment, the truly upsetting word 'Dustman' instead of the approved 'Waste Operative Disposal Technician' really is beyond the pale!

Point Two.

As some commentators such as the estimable EURef. have already asked, is there anyone who did not notice the fantastic response in the Daily Mail to the Cameron plea for more 'Foreign aid' to the dictators, drug lords, Swiss bank accounts and finally, the 'poor black babies' who are dying because of our lack of compassion, or something?

Nearly 1500 responses to this moron who wants to give ever greater amounts of our money, which we don;t have but need to borrow; so that we may 'hold our heads up high' in the corridors of power!

Where is Madame DeFarge now that we really need her?

John Page said...

Mike, it's a strange word ... whatever's in our landfill bin (and that's between me and any council snoopers we're paying for), hardly any of it is dust.

Was that less true in the days of coal, maybe?

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