Years ago when private prisons were introduced in the UK I remember thinking (naively as it turned out) “Are there no limits to a public service that can be privatised?”

Well on a short break in the Republic of Ireland I came across a new example for me that may be difficult for Brits to get their heads around.

The council empty the bins.  Right?  I mean they may do it themselves or they may contract it out, but they’re responsible.  In Ireland, wrong.

Driving through the rolling green countryside of Wicklow I was struck by the number of bright green and lilac wheelie bins at road ends.  “Well the green’s obviously recycling” I said, “but why lilac?”

I was wrong.  The green bins belonged to Access Waste Recycling, the lilac (slightly perversely) ones to Greenstar Ltd.

As a householder, you contract with one company to have your bin emptied weekly.  You can pay per kilo or per lift, by an annual fee or buying a tag each week to fit on your bin.

Now, anyone dipping into this blog will come to realise I’m not advocating a particular course of action but you have to admit it’s a different model than the one we’re used to.  And if I’ve understood it correctly (Irish readers’ comments welcome) the service is a commercial one without subsidy.  The workers are certainly not on the public payroll.