I know it's pushing muck uphill writing about rubbish on a public holiday, but with just one day left to make submissions on Auckland Council's grand plans to standardise waste disposal, here goes.
What leaps out of the 95-page draft waste management and minimisation plan is how complicated the boffins want to make the process of moving waste out of suburbia. You'd have thought starting from scratch to create a grand scheme to replace seven disparate systems would lead to a more user-friendly, streamlined system. But far from it.
As a resident of the old Auckland City, I seem destined to get yet another wheelie-bin to add to the blue-top recycling and red-top general rubbish bin I already have. Sitting at his desktop computer, the rubbish planner obviously sees the symmetry of forcing me to now separate my organic kitchen refuse into a third bin. But what palace does he go home to?
In my compact inner-city suburb, finding living space for the existing two bins is tough enough. Who needs another? On rubbish collection day, the street is littered all day with blue and red bins poking out between the tightly parked cars.
It's worse. They want to attach a transponder on each lid that records each time the rubbish truck empties the bin and bills your account accordingly. Personally, a user-pays system would suit me down to the ground. My bin only goes out once or twice a month, and I compost my kitchen greens. It's just the complicatedness of it all that irks me.
User-pays is supposed to act as a deterrent to extravagant users of rubbish bins. To me, it's more likely to encourage nocturnal dumping into neighbours' bins. There's also the back-office cost of running rubbish accounts for the city's 540,000 dwellings. Each of them will have to receive a regular statement, or have computer access to their account. There'll have to be a help desk to deal, for instance, with complaints about stolen bins going feral and running up unauthorised charges.
When the Northern Gateway toll road near Puhoi opened two years ago, $1.29 of each $2 car toll was gobbled up in transaction costs. What's to say a rubbish toll won't have similar back-office costs.
What strikes me is the huge timidity of this so-called standardisation programme. The reason is obvious. Auckland Council has no real control over anyone in the industry but the poor old ratepayer.
The report confesses as much, admitting that Auckland sent 1.174 million tonnes of waste to landfill in 2010 but that "waste management and minimisation services are fragmented in Auckland".
It admits that "few key facilities are owned by the council and the majority of landfills and transfer stations are owned by two large commercial waste companies. As a consequence, council influences only 17 per cent of the waste stream; the rest is controlled by private industry".
In other words, like our public transport system, the newly united political entity Auckland is hog-tied when it comes to rationalising its rubbish system by the fragmented private control of the vital delivery stages of the industry. There's no recognition of the grand plan to double the number of people living within existing city limits. No one seems to have factored in the chaos on the streets and in the front yards caused by a doubling or trebling of the number of plastic wheelie-bins.
On TV7 the other night, I stumbled on a programme about rubbish disposal in some city in Britain. It wasn't being held up as some cutting-edge new system, just an information programme about where your rubbish went to in a typical English city.
It started with the contents of a single household bin ending up in a plant at the edge of town. There, various machines sifted and sorted the stuff, extracting the recyclables along the way. The biodegradable waste ended up in massive covered barns, piled in long mounds in temperature-regulated conditions. Gas was extracted and temperatures and moisture controlled, and, hey presto, it was soon commercial-grade compost.
It all seemed so simple and efficient. It also suggested that instead of expensive tinkering at the ratepayer end of the chain, meaningful reform in Auckland requires major rationalisation at the business end of the process.