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Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2006, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Of maggots and men
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
Political Editor BBC West

Brown bin crawling with maggots
Recycling ... public concern over brown bins
It was the bin that shattered his council-speak. It was encrusted with putrefying bread, veg peelings, and egg shells. A hairy maggot crawled over a yellow grub.

"We shall be implementing a waste management strategy..." Councillor Waddington had been telling me, as I struggled to stay awake... utilizing an in-vessel composting system in partnership with our waste collection authority strategic partners."

I showed him the bin.

Public outcry?

"YUK! That is just disgusting!" the Councillor exclaimed. "That is not something the housewives of Gloucestershire would put up with - nor should they".

But if he is not careful, this grub-infested bin might be his council's future.

Because the politics of recycling has just got grimy.

Gloucestershire County Council decided this week to press ahead with plans to collect every household's leftover food scraps, and compost them in a giant steel tank.

Bristol and Somerset already do this. And in Bristol it has proved, well - controversial.

Brown bin
Brown bins require newspaper lining

Brown bins

The idea is simple enough. You scrape your peelings and even chicken carcasses into a brown bin.

The bin men collect it separately, and heave it off to a giant composter where it becomes food for Charlie Dimmock's Roses.

But since the bin is headed to compost, you cannot line it with a plastic bag. And left for a week, pure food attracts every fly and rat in the city.

The bins have a simple plastic lock, and officers assured the councillor in charge that this lock would keep any nasties at bay.

Well, it has not. Thousands of well-intentioned Bristolians, happy to do their bit for the environment, have found maggots in their house for the first time.

Especially in the summer heatwaves, but we found our maggoty bin in October!

Councillor cornered by constituent
Councillor cornered by constituent

Mucky mission

I went out with the bin collectors in Southville, an area of the city that just elected a green councillor. I find fans of the bins, yes. But also reluctant critics.

People who want to save the planet, but wish they could do it without flies in their kitchen and maggots in the backyard.

"There is a bit of a problem," says Cllr Gary Hopkins, when I show him our bin.

"The person using this bin hasn't lined it with paper, and probably hasn't cleaned it out after it was emptied last time."

Bin liners help

He is right, of course. If people line their bins with The Mirror, and wrap their chicken carcasses in The Times, they will stay clean.

But there are 350,000 people in Bristol, and not all of them read the Council Leaflet: "How to Use Your Bin".

And the harsh politics of this mean that the council pays the price for people who cannot be convinced, or cannot be bothered.

Landfill taxes are running at 21 per tonne. Bristol was facing a bill of millions. So they had to do something.

But this is one area where the council's performance rests directly on the public playing ball.

So far the numbers look good. Overall recycling and composting is up from 18% of all waste in 2005-6 to a whopping 39% in October 2006.

Public concern

But beneath the numbers, there is a simmering public disquiet about the mucky brown bin.

Back in Gloucestershire, Cllr Waddington is surveying an uncertain future. If he does nothing, his county faces a bill of 174m before 2020.

If he buys a truckload of Bristol Bins, he faces a rubbish revolution.

Maggots or Euro-taxes? What a choice for a local politician. Can he find a Third Way?

Tune into the Politics Show, to find out. And we would like to know what you think - email us here!

The Politics Show on Sunday 22 October 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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Previous stories...

Waste collection goes city-wide
06 Aug 06 |  Bristol
Bins overflowing due to dispute
04 Aug 06 |  Wiltshire
11 Sep 05 |  Politics Show

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