Knock, knock: it’s the council bin snoops
Householders face 're-education' visits for producing too much rubbish after microchipping of two million bins

The Sunday Times | March 15, 2009
By Steven Swinford

HOUSEHOLDERS are facing “re-education” home visits for producing too much rubbish after figures released under freedom of information laws revealed that councils have quietly microchipped 2m bins.

The chips can be used to record the amount of rubbish families are throwing away. Those recycling too little will be sent warning leaflets, then visited by council officials who will advise on cutting waste.

Details of the scheme resurrect the long-term prospect of a pay-as-you-throw bin tax, which many thought had died when councils failed to take part in government trials.

Councils in Oxfordshire hope to escape controversy by using the technology to educate rather than charge residents. But officials admit it could eventually pave the way for a full-blown bin tax.

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have put microchips in 100,000 bins as part of a new £8m waste contract in which bins will replace sack collections from June.

The councils have also invested in sensors and weighing equipment that have been fitted to the back of each rubbish lorry.

As the bin is raised, the chip passes across an antenna fitted to the lifting mechanism that reads a serial number assigned to each property. The bin is weighed and information downloaded to a database that allows officials to see how much waste and recycling each household is putting out.

Officials will then use the data to target errant streets and households. They are also considering publishing league tables of the best and worst roads for recycling. The councils hope to increase recycling rates from 43% to 60%.

In June last year a similar trial of microchipped bins in South Norfolk failed after a series of computer problems and a 250% increase in fly tipping. South Oxfordshire, however, remains undeterred.

David Dodds, the council’s member for environmental services, said: “This will enable us to work out where recycling is happening the most and target people who are recycling less.

“Our teams will go out and leaflet first of all and in the end will call and say, ‘Are you recycling as much as you can, can we give you some advice on what you can do better?’ We’re about trying to do the best for the whole community.”

Some were worried about intrusive technology. “This is the kind of thing you’d expect from a communist state,” said Ann Midwinter, an independent councillor.

“I accept that recycling is important but does the council really need to go to these lengths?”

A survey of 200 local authorities using freedom of information laws found that 42 town halls have installed 2m microchips in their bins.