Little things can tell voters a lot about their local government. The Super City's new inorganic recycling service came to our house this week.

It is quite a change from the rough-and-ready but highly efficient recycling that used to be done by the people who pounced on discarded appliances as soon as we put them out.

I missed those people this week.

They could turn a tidy pile of household detritus into a mess within minutes. But they knew what they were doing when they whacked the back off computers and working television sets and ripped out the wiring and metal that had value.


They always knew when the neighbourhood had been notified of a collection the following week and they would cruise its streets from first light on the weekend.

You'd see their cars stop when they saw you carrying things to the gate. It was always satisfying when something you had just left there was gone by the time you returned with more.

They knew which items of furniture had resale value and which did not. It was interesting to see how wrong my assumptions would be.

By Monday, the street verges were strewn with stuff that had been well picked over and the scene was pretty unsightly until the council truck cleared the residue nearer the end of the week.

I hadn't had this service from a council until I came to the North Shore. I don't imagine it was planned this way but it worked a treat.

When that council disappeared into the Greater Auckland amalgamation, of course, everything had to be planned anew. A committee reviewed rubbish collections and found our rough and ready recycling too messy. It decided to get rid of the riff-raff collectors and second had dealers and run it own operation.

The first thing this meant was an end to a regular service. You would need to call the council when you had junk to dump. When we did, and eventually were given a date for the collection, there were new rules to observe.

On no account were items to be put it outside our gate. The pile had to be in an accessible place inside the property, but not in a garage or carport. The volume must not exceed a small trailer load . . .

A committee reviewed rubbish collections and found our rough-and-ready recycling too messy. It decided to get rid of the riff-raff collectors and second-hand dealers and run its own operation.


We had quite a number of electronic things to go out that were still working fine - a computer of the last generation, a good solid printer supplanted by a wireless one, a humidifier, a couple of stylish standing lamps.

Everything had to go outside the night before the collection. Rain was likely, which would have been no problem previously. The scavenges would have taken them, or stripped them, before they got wet.

I covered them with plastic as best I could, thinking it was probably pointless because they would be thrown on a truck.

But when the council's new service turned up, it was an impressive covered vehicle and a crew who took care with the re-usable stuff. Still, I wonder whether any of it will really be recycled.

Green folk think of recycling as a clean and tidy exchange that sends nothing to the tip and gives valuable goods to the less well off.

The Auckland Council's rubbish review was overseen by a committee chaired by Wayne Walker who represents my ward. He didn't like our old messy collection but I suspect his new one will create storehouses of clean and tidy appliances nobody wants.

The strangest decision his committee made, though, was to take over the recycling of paper and glass. The residents of North Shore and Waitakere City were well accustomed to putting bottles in a blue recycling bin and parcelling up their paper and cardboard to be collected separately.

The isthmus and Manukau tossed it all into one big bin.

The Super City is hell-bent on standardising everything but why wouldn't you standardise to best practice? The reason, probably, is that our separate collections were done by private contractors.

The Auckland Council is a leviathan absorbing business into itself. Monolithic operations do one system, one bin, one size for all.

The frustration for voters is that elected members cannot do much about this. It is hard for me to blame Wayne Walker when I know he wanted to offer households a choice of bin sizes at least. But that part of the plan was lost when the council officials got hold of it. That it what is happening to all of local government.

Law allows elected representatives to decide "principles and policy", which means they can decide to have recycling schemes. But when it comes to deciding how these things will be done, they're told this is strictly "operational", which means the officers decide. You might wonder why we vote.