3 September 2011

A rubbish idea

This blog is intended to head off any thought that someone in Barnet Council might get to copy the stupid idea that has taken hold in Bury. Here is the article that appeared in the Guardian

1. Bury council has defended its decision to spend £9,000 on iPads for its fleet of refuse trucks, saying the devices will allow it to provide a real time bin collection service.

2. The council has come under severe criticism for purchasing 22 of the touchscreen devices, which retail at around £400 each, just months after unveiling plans to make £12m of cuts to local services.

3. But they insisted the products, made by Apple, could produce significant savings by helping to reduce the number of bins missed by trucks and therefore the number of trips made by the vehicles.

4. The council, which collects rubbish from 83,000 houses each week, revealed that there were 4,228 reports of missed bins last year. Costing £40 each to revisit, it spent around £170,000 going back to empty bins missed on rounds.

5. A council spokeswoman said: "For a modest investment of £9,000, this technology should save us many thousands of pounds, provide residents with a better service, and promote recycling.

6. "We know how much residents value a responsive and reliable bin collection service. This system should ensure that the number of missed collections is reduced to an absolute minimum, because any problems are reported in real time to our customer contact centre.

7. "The system should also allow us to respond more quickly during the winter to any enforced changes in the collection route."

8. The council also said the soaring landfill costs contributed to the decision.

9. The spokeswoman added: "We need to urgently improve our recycling rates to avoid passing on crippling landfill taxes to local residents, which is already costing every local taxpayer £134 a year each and is set to rise to £250 a year if we keep dumping waste in landfill sites.

10. "This new technology will help us to log and monitor this, and help us in our ongoing efforts to promote recycling across the borough. It is absolutely vital that we increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Mr Mustard has the following comments, using the above line numbers.

1. The iPad is not the default choice. All touchscreen devices should have been considered and the most rugged, waterproof, rubbish-proof system should have been selected if the purchase really can be justified..

2. This is the sort of purchase Barnet Council would make when in a financial mess. Don't do it Barnet.

3. The device will not prevent the binmen deciding not to empty a bin that is not placed near enough to the boundary or getting distracted and forgetting it and it won't help the binmen put empty bins back at the correct property.

4. This is the typical cost escalation scare tactic that councils employ. Let us work it out. 4,288 missed bins across 250 working days is 17 bins a day. If you employed one man with a van to collect all of these you are looking at say £15,000 for the man and £10,000 for the van which makes £25,000 a year for a nice cushy job. Cost per bin missed is £25,000 divided by 4288 = less than £6 per bin.

5. There are other ways to tackle this problem. Put the crew on a performance bonus with a target for each year of reducing the missed collections then they might just stop.

6. Problems aren't reported in real time. They come home from work to find their bin is still full and then report it after the binmen have gone home and tomorrow they are on a different round. As it happens Mr Mustard reported a green bin non-collection last Saturday and Barnet Council did not come back to empty it; they just left it until the following week. Doubtless in 10 days time Mr Mustard will get a response from Barnet Council as to their proposed solution.

7. How? Can the iPad drive a dustcart? What arrant nonsense.

8. No it didn't. As long as the recycling is collected the following week the same amount will be recycled.

9. The only way that buying iPads will improve your recycling rates is when you recycle the packaging.

10. The iPads will not tell you what materials and how much of each and even if it does that does not tell you what the householder should have recycled. Mr Mustard does not drink fizzy drinks and buys his beer in bottles so there is hardly ever any aluminium cans in his recycling. Mr Mustard does not buy a daily newspaper so there isn't much of that to recycle. Mr Mustard tries to cook from fresh so not many prepared food packets to recycle etc. He may look like he only recycles a modest amount but that is all he generates. 

Recycling is a huge and complex problem and the consumer throwaway society must take the lion's share of the blame. Sticking an iPad in the cab will enable the crew to find out the winner of the 2.30, it will distract the driver of a very dangerous vehicle from keeping his eye on the road and will make no difference to the volume of recycling or to costs.

Don't even think about suggesting this idea Barnet.

What you need to work out is how to get every household to maximise its recycling. That needs a sea change in attitude and it needs to be brought about by the carrot and not the stick.


  1. good one. but you missed the crucial point. that is, the collectors will missed more bins while surfing youtube.

  2. Um. Could Bury Council perhaps have bought a few notepads, rather than ipads,plus a few pencils, and asked someone to keep a record of things to remember?

    Just a thought.

  3. I don't think that you are correct Ron. The binmen will be too busy loading up salvaged items on ebay to watch youtube.

  4. Thought up by councillors with ZX81 brains.


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