Be careful with those tea bags and unwanted pizza crusts... Big Bin-man is watching you
Belfast City Council's efforts to save money on landfill are half-cocked and unduly punitive, says Fionola Meredith.
Another day, another directive. There's nothing that Northern Ireland's councils like more than issuing rules and diktats. Now it has been decreed, by Belfast City Council, that we must not commit the grievous sin of putting food waste in our black bins. God forbid that a rogue pea or nibbled edge of pizza crust should find its way into the wrong bin. You wouldn't want an environmental crime like that on your conscience, would you?
But the city council knows that us sinners find it difficult to walk the narrow path of righteousness, so instead of trusting us to sort our food waste as instructed, they'll be putting the bin-men on to us.
Yes, these stalwart council operatives will now become officially sanctioned bin-hokers.
If they find a random bean or pea or mouldy tea-bag hiding out in there, you'll get two chances.
First you receive a sticker slapped on your bin, to show they mean business. Second time round, you'll get a sticker and a warning letter. Trespass a third time, and you're bunched. That's when you get a tag on your bin - unclean, unclean! - and they won't empty it until you delve into the stinking, cavernous depths and take that evil tea bag away. Non-compliance will not be tolerated.
Contrast the civilised approach taken by North Hertfordshire District Council, which also launched a similar plan this month. It too placed 'no food waste' stickers on bins, but left it up to people to decide for themselves whether they wanted to take part.
"Thank you to households who do recycle their food waste," the council said. "We are aiming to encourage as many households as possible to join you."
Anyway, the whole thing has gone off half-cocked in Belfast, because while we all now have stickers on our black bins telling us not to sully them with food waste, we haven't got the dinky little caddies, nor the rolls of liners, that we're supposed to use to collect the waste in the house before decanting it into the appropriate bin.
The council has been inundated with complaints and queries from residents who fear they're going to be punished because they haven't got the right recycling apparatus.
Look, if I'm to take up valuable moments of my short, precious life messing around sorting household rubbish into edible and non-edible piles, I'd like to know that there's a compelling case for doing so.
Am I really helping, in my own small way, to ensure the future health of the planet? Or do all those coal-fired power stations around the world cancel out my paltry efforts?
We are told that the initiative could lead to 1,500 tonnes of food waste being recycled, which will save the council £800,000 in landfill charges every year. It's also been reported that the move to ban edible matter from black bins follows a new law requiring the separate collection of food waste.
I understand that the legislation, introduced by the NI Environment Agency, affects all businesses that generate more than 5kg of food waste. How does that apply to me or you as private citizens?
And if the council is going to save all that money, will they be passing on the savings to us, the rate-payers? Will we be getting substantially smaller bills?
Some councillors are all for it, others less so. The DUP's Graham Craig - who seems to be popping up all the time at the moment, since his unfortunate remark about the enlivening effect he got from seeing the chief executive on her bike - is a big fan. "I already compost raw food waste in my garden and put the cooked material into the brown bin," he said proudly. What a hero, eh? We must all emulate his shining example.
But others raised the issue of how people with smaller homes (and without the luxury of a garden, for composting) would cope with the extra paraphernalia required to sort the rubbish, and whether a bucketful of rotting food was really the most hygienic thing to have about the house.
Meanwhile, we have a brief window of opportunity to gleefully sling all the rancid old sausages we want into our black bins before the regime starts. A Belfast City Council spokeswoman has stated that enforcement action would not begin until everyone has received their new bins, caddies and recycling bags. After that, though, it's open season on all the dastardly waste offenders out there. Remember, Big Bin-man is watching.