By Matt Sandy
They take your parking space, destroy the value of your house and stink to high heaven. Oh... and they save your council £250k a year but you don't get a penny back. They're the latest 'continental' import.
Door-to-door rubbish collections are under threat as councils turn to continental-style communal dustbins shared by as many as 40 households.
Under the scheme – already operating in some cities – families carry their bin bags up to 150 yards to industrial-style dumpsters placed on the street, rather than having their waste collected from individual dustbins outside their front door.
Long walk: Manchester pensioner Olwyn Steinloft grapples with a heavy lid after a 100 yard trudge to her bin
Parts of Manchester, Bristol and Brighton already use the communal bins and other cities could follow suit. Critics say they are magnets for rats and often overflow with smelly rubbish due to fly-tippers.
Many pensioners say they struggle to carry rubbish bags all the way to the nearest bin – and to lift the lid when they get there. The bins are also said to take up hundreds of valuable car parking spaces.
Critics also point out that three people were killed in the space of a year after being crushed or suffocated in collection trucks when they fell asleep in similar-style dumpsters.
A Minister last night pledged to fight councils bringing in the change. Local Government Minister Bob Neill said: ‘Communal bins are the brainchild of Labour’s bin bureaucrats who targeted hard-working households and bullied councils into cutting back weekly rubbish collections while doubling council tax.
‘We are reining in the bin police and stopping this kind of bin blight. The Government is working with local councils to increase the frequency and quality of rubbish collections.’
And Doretta Cocks, of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection, said: ‘Everyone has a right to their own bin. These communal bins may work on the continent but people will not stand for it here, and if pushed far enough they will rebel.
‘The bins are a magnet for fly-tippers and take up valuable parking spaces. People feel they don’t get value for money for their council tax and abolishing individual rubbish collections will only add to that.’
Stinker of an idea: Janety and Seamus Haji at a Brighton Council mega-bin
In Brighton, 30,000 families have been forced to use 700 of the new bins. The dumpsters are 5ft high, have a 3,200-litre capacity and are shared between 40 families.
Previously, households had a 140-litre wheelie bin each – or 240 litres if they were a large family.
Brighton Council estimates that the scheme will save £1.58million over seven years – £225,00 a year – because fewer binmen will be required for collections.
It spent £615,000 installing the bins and buying a new collection truck.
However, the bins are only for non-recyclable waste going to landfill – the council still collects recycling from individual houses.
Among the streets affected in Brighton are the upmarket Clifton and Montpelier conservation areas, renowned for Regency architecture.
Record producer Seamus Haji and his wife Janet live in Montpelier and were angry to have a communal bin placed directly outside their £500,000 home. Mrs Haji said: ‘We had a bin a few feet from our front door and it was a nightmare.
‘Our quality of life plummeted. It was a real concern that having a bin there would have a very negative effect on the price of our property.’
It took the Hajis a year to get the bin moved from their house, after constant complaints to the council.
It was eventually shifted when their next-door neighbour was unable to park his Porsche on the small parking area in front of his house because the bin encroached on his space.
Many Brighton residents have suffered from the resulting ‘bin chess’ – where families find the communal bin has been moved to outside their house because of another resident’s persistent complaints.
Mrs Haji added: ‘They are hideous things that have little support from anyone. They are supposed to be emptied often but at Bank Holidays the rubbish spills out all over the place.
‘People under 6ft tall struggle to reach the handle to open and then close the bin, so they are normally left open. In the summer they stink from rotting waste.
‘There are no benefits. People stuff them full of garden waste instead of recycling it, and fly-tippers leave all manner of things beside them. We have had television sets and old computers left in the road. I wish they’d never had this ridiculous idea.’
The family, who pay £2,142 a year in council tax, do not get a reduction in their rates, despite the scheme saving the council hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Near neighbour, pensioner Jakki Joyce, 65, said: ‘It was a money- saving scheme to sack binmen and the vast majority of us hate it. I am a 5ft 2in grandmother and it is almost impossible for me to get my rubbish into these awful things because the lids are so heavy.
‘I saw one elderly lady, who I know is suffering a terminal illness, struggling the other day to get to the communal bin with her rubbish in the pouring rain. It was pitiful.’
In Manchester, families have to sort their rubbish into three separate communal bins – the first for rubbish, the second for paper and card, and the third for plastic, glass and tins.
Food and gardening waste is still collected from each house.
The scheme will soon affect 15,000 homes across the city with one 1,100-litre bin for every 20 homes – and council bureaucrats have threatened to remove any old-style bins they find on the streets.
Officials in Manchester would not comment on how much money the council will save.
Olwyn Steinloft, 70, a pensioner with osteoporosis who lives in south Manchester, said it was difficult for her to walk the 100 yards to the bins and now she relies on neighbours and relatives.
She said: ‘What makes it worse is when there’s bad weather, you have to walk all that way in the pouring rain. Then when you get to them it’s a struggle to lift the lids on these big things.’
In Bristol, communal bins are being trialled by 3,000 households including the exclusive Clifton neighbourhood, with two of the four trial areas also using communal recycling bins.
There are plans to add to the current 200 bins, which serve up to 12 households each. The council said the scheme cost £80,000 to roll out, but would not comment on potential savings.
Insurance worker Charlotte Rysdale, 26, from Bristol, said: ‘The bins are a complete eyesore. They really aren’t very nice to have right next to your home.’
Another concern is the safety of those people – usually either drunk or homeless – who fall asleep in one of the dumpsters and end up being crushed or suffocated in a rubbish truck. Latest figures, for 2009/10, show that the Health and Safety Executive recorded three such deaths – including one in Brighton and one in Manchester – having not had any in the previous four years.
Teacher Scott Williams, 35, died in July 2009 when he was apparently crushed after falling asleep in one of the containers in Brighton after a night of heavy drinking.
Brighton and Hove Council has reported at least other three cases where people sleeping in communal bins were tipped into rubbish trucks as they were emptied. All survived, but the council now employs an extra binman on each rubbish truck as a precaution.
The Manchester case related to an industrial, rather than residential, dumpster.
Rubbish collection has been a hot topic for years. Half of councils no longer offer weekly bin collections, and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles this month admitted he was unable to force them to reinstate them.
A recent survey of 117 councils revealed that 59 per cent now make fortnightly collections.
A Brighton and Hove Council spokesman said yesterday: ‘We introduced communal bins in targeted areas to improve street hygiene, and this has led to considerable savings.
‘The bins were introduced because of a lack of space to leave out refuse in some areas, compounded by seagulls scattering rubbish from black bags left on the streets.’
A Manchester Council spokesman said: ‘Residents say that the changes have made it easier for them to recycle and have improved how their neighbourhoods look.’
And a spokesman for Bristol Council said: ‘The main aim is to enhance the local communities by improving the street scene and reducing litter and fly tipping.’
Last night a Brighton estate agent said a communal bin in the road right outside a £500,000 house could take up to £10,000 off the value of the property.
Paul Bonett, of Bonett’s estate agents, said: ‘I would say it could affect the value by up to two per cent and will impact the saleability of the house. Whereas before, seven out of ten viewers may have been interested in the house, this might reduce it to five.’