One of my original aspirations on the HelpGov blog was to focus on innovation, something I fess up to not having achieved much – yet.

Back in April 2010 I blogged under the title Empty your bin, sir? about the oh so sexy subject of waste collection in Ireland and the model of paying one of two competing companies to collect your household waste, at least in rural Wicklow.

Now the BBC bring us a different model from the far side of the world – Taiwan’s musical garbage trucks.

Actually, the music isn’t really the point.  All it does is alert waiting citizens to the truck’s imminent arrival five nights a week (the truck on the BBC’s web site uses a touching version of Beethoven’s Für Elise for the purpose).

The eager inhabitants take their waste to the rear of the truck and hurl their blue regulation plastic bags into its churning interior (health and safety issue No. 1?).

Another vehicle follows for the recyclables – paper, plastic, metal, waste food etc., one category each night.

The waste food  goes to farmers to boil up for pig feed (health and safety hazard No. 2?).  This used to be called pig swill in the UK and was banned for fear of  spreading, I think, CJD.  I remember my two farming uncles had virtually a full set of cutlery retrieved from their swill that had been discarded by the careless catering establishments whose waste food they took away.

Somehow, I can’t see this working in the UK, even in densely populated cities.  We don’t have the same social discipline that would get someone from every household out on to the street at a set time five nights a week to chuck their waste into a passing truck.

Still, it might be a great way to meet the neighbours if people were willing.

And who knows, maybe there’s something in the idea that could be adapted to our peculiar circumstances.

After all, they say the concept of neighbourhood watch came from a brainstorm in the States into crime reduction (someone said “Make everyone a police officer”).  Any brainstormers out there with bright ideas?


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.