Sunday, 29 July 2007

Chip and Bin

Southport, in Sefton on Lancashire's Fylde coast, is a pretty, bustling, but unspoiled seaside town. It's a popular day-trip destination for folks from all over the North West, is famed for its Flower Show, and goes down particularly well with pensioners, who, understandably, prefer it's civilised charms to the more gaudy attractions of Blackpool. It is not, on the whole, a place synonymous with insurrection and civil unrest.

Yet, thanks to Sefton council, the foul stench of decay and the twin spectres of rebellion and Orwellian surveillance now - quite literally - stalk the streets of this sedate coastal resort. For Sefton is the latest community to suffer the dual evils of fortnightly refuse collections and bugged wheelie bins.

To add insult to injury, the locals have been issued with a set of imperious instructions on how, and when, they should put their wheelie bins out for collection, with the threat of a £100 fine to be imposed on those who dare to disobey. Can't you just hear 'Allo 'Allo's Colonel von Strohm, "You vill put ze bins out how I say, or I vill have you shot!"

So what, exactly, are the locals expected to do if they want to avoid this swinging penalty? According to the Southport Visiter:

  • Bins stuffed with rubbish leaving lids even slightly ajar will NOT be collected;
  • £100 fines for anyone who leaves their bin out on the wrong day for collection – or takes too long to take it in again;
  • Bin bags left out next to wheelie bins will not be taken away;
  • If bins are not on the kerbside with their handles pointing into the road, they will not be collected;
  • Anyone requesting a second wheelie bin will see inspectors visiting their home to sift through rubbish to see if they are recycling enough;

Did you ever read such a load of hectoring, poorly thought out cobblers? No, me neither. Take the second point - what constitutes "the wrong day"? Taking this literally, anyone who puts their wheelie bin out for collection before midnight on the day before collection - say, before they go to bed - is due a £100 fine. And what amounts to "taking too long to take it in again"? How long is too long? How long is a piece of string? And, significantly, how will Southport's evidently deranged council actually know?

And then there's the business of handles pointing out to the road. Have these people taken leave of their senses?!? Do they plan to employ some kind of drill Sergeants to make this happen? "AttennSHUN! Wheelieeee bin handles, GRASP! Wheelie bins, to the kerb, MARCH! Left, right, left, right.. keep up there, you pansy penioners.. left, right..! Wheelie bins, to the kerb, wait for it, WAIT FOR IT... RoooTATE!"

This is simply beyond my ability to mock - it's mindless. What, for example, happens if some passing child maliciously turns a bin to face away from the road? Or does the same to a whole street full of bins? Under the fortnightly collection, and the terms of this ludicrous order, that would mean that the unfortunate victims would have to wait another two weeks before the council deigned to remove one month's worth of garbage. Hardly in the interests of public health, I'd have thought.

As for the garbage grubbing pooper snoopers they intend to unleash on anyone with the temerity to request a second wheelie bin, well, that just takes the biscuit. Apart from anyone else, who in their right mind would apply for such a job?

Needless to say, the residents are not happy campers, as the Southport Watch website clearly shows, and I don't blame them. Sefton council has prepared a video about the "benefits" of the convoluted scheme. It's available here. Watch out for the old lady in the pink top cheerfully making use of the new "services" for propaganda purposes.

How many trips does she have to make to put out her rubbish? I make it three - one to push out the wheelie bin (which is almost as big as she is), one with the bottles and plastics box, and one for the new "food scraps" box. Now, I'm sure that's all fine and dandy on a reasonable day when she's surrounded by helpful public relations bods and a camera crew, but how good will it be in the depths of winter?

And then there's the business of the bug in the bins. Each new wheelie bin is fitted with a tiny radio frequency chip, which, the council says, will be used to identify the bin and return it if it gets lost. How thoughtful of them, but doesn't that seem like a lot of trouble to go to for a lost wheelie bin? And anyway, most lost wheelie bins don't go much further than another house on the same street, and the problem is easily resolved in the time-honoured manner of painting your house number on it.

No, I'm afraid I'm not convinced by this glib explanation. The real reason is for monitoring how much garbage is disposed of by each household, and the obvious reason for doing that is to make feasible some form of new refuse collection charge. Certainly, the council is very touchy about folks removing the chips from their bins, claiming it to be a criminal offence.

Perhaps it is, although it's difficult to see how. But it may not be necessary to physically remove the chips from the bins. The chips are simply RFID tags, and, as such, are designed to be read and, one assumes, programmed. How long will it be before some tech comes up with a way to scramble the information encoded onto the tag - or, worse, reprogram the tag to identify someone else's bin?

Not very long, I expect. And when that happens, the whole idea of charging will have to be abandoned as fundamentally flawed. In fact, so certain am I that this WILL happen, that I can see no point in councils going to all the trouble - and attracting such enormous, and justified, vilification - involved in rolling this scheme out.

Give it up, guys, you're not going to achieve your objectives, and you're starting to look very foolish indeed. Next time I visit Southport - if I ever again do - I'll bring along a nose peg or two so I don't have to smell the decaying garbage, or the stench of corrupt council officials who think they can put one over on the local residents.

Billy Seggars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered the chip in my bin lid.; I live in Rufford West lancashire. I have never been informed that I am to have my rubbish monitored. Surely the council have a legal duty to do this before they install such surviellence devices. There in no mention on their website about bin chips. Dose the data protection act not offer any protection for us from these devices?