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Every week I bundle up my rubbish and place it carefully in a big green plastic wheelie bin. The bin is positioned precisely on a special spot on the pavement and in the small hours of the next morning I am awoken from blissful slumber as a roaring behemoth of the night picks up the bin and empties the contents into its grinding maw. This is the way the world has always been, but it is not the way the world will be in the future.

Everyone in Auckland is talking about rubbish. Commuters from Waiheke Island have come out from behind their morning papers to discuss it on the ferry. Buses full of complete strangers hum with conversation as the merits of recycling are debated.

All over the city, residents are waking to find that a new wheelie bin has entered their lives. This one is smaller than that previously used, and it has a pretty red lid. The council, in their wisdom, have decided that the older, larger bins are aesthetically unpleasing (for they are green all over) and, more importantly, they are far too big thereby encouraging people to produce too much waste. Auckland, they claim, is drowning in rubbish. The new, sleek, slimline, half-size bins with the pretty red lids will address this problem directly by forcing people cut down on their rubbish production.

No more the secret midnight thrill of heaving your extra trash into somebody else’s wheelie bin. Now theirs too will be crammed full of their own junk. Recycle it, compost it, is the encouraging cry. This is all well and good, but much of the rubbish I generate is neither biodegradable nor recyclable for it is the wrong grade of plastic and won’t be collected. Bugger.

All Auckland houses can now use up to three recycling bins. Previously only one was allowed. These cute blue bins are enormously popular. People use them to equip the family picnic in the park. Fisherman find them wonderful, for they have a hole in the bottom making it particularly easy to drain their daily catch. Sometimes people use them for holding goods to be recycled. How unimaginative.

It is instructive to wander the street and make deductions about the lifestyles of the inhabitants from the contents of the recycling bins and the cardboard boxes and papers that are dumped beside the bins for the Paper Tiger to collect. This household lives on pizza and coke, that one on beer. This house has cats, that one dogs, the other one small children. These people have just bought an expensive sound system, those have taken delivery of a computer. Burglars walk the streets taking notes and have been seen, on occasion, to run away with wheelie bins and paper piles in order to go through them at their leisure hunting for credit card numbers and bank account details. People are often very careless with their discards. It may be rubbish to you, but it is treasure to someone else.

One new red-topped wheelie bin is allowed per title holder. At first glance it sounds quite sensible, but it does lead to some anomalies. A very large, luxurious multi-bedroomed hotel in the city is owned by a single person. This enormous building must therefore now dispose of the rubbish generated by its staff and its hundreds of guests in a single 120-litre wheelie bin. Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a much smaller, much less luxurious hotel has, through some curious quirk of corporate ownership, 389 names on its title deed. Its manager is now faced with the problem of finding storage space for the 389 wheelie bins that were delivered last week. Perhaps he needs another, larger bin in which he can toss the surplus red-topped bins – a meta-rubbish bin as it were.

Court cases are pending against Auckland City Council because of the new, small wheelie bin policy. A lady from Epsom believes that the introduction of the bins is a breach of the Human Rights Act and she has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. "It struck me as so unfair," she is quoted as saying. "There are six units next door and each will have the same size bin as we have for a family of five!" She claims that the uniform reduction in bin size across the board will put unfair pressure on larger households. A council spokesman does not agree with her.

"We have ‘waste doctors’ who will be able to assist those who have any difficulty."

Waste doctors?

"Put two aspirin in the rubbish bin twice a day for a week. If it doesn’t get better come back and see me again and we’ll arrange for a trashectomy operation."

It has been suggested that the rubbish collection vehicles be fitted with video cameras. Each bin will be videotaped as it is emptied. Anyone found disposing of inappropriate rubbish will be visited at dead of night by the rubbish police. The waste doctors will prepare psychiatric reports and the rubbish criminals will have to attend waste management workshops. Repeat offences will carry a mandatory sentence of biodegradation.

Each bin is delivered with a leaflet sellotaped to it which says in big, bold, friendly letters that the new bin cannot be used until the week beginning July 2nd. Despite this, for the three weeks prior to July 2nd, red lidded wheelie bins full of rubbish have lined the streets. When the rubbish was not collected, aggrieved residents inundated the Council with complaints. A man on the radio said through gritted teeth:

"We are very pleased that people are embracing the new collection system so enthusiastically, but we would encourage them to restrain their enthusiasm until after July 2nd."

He didn’t say that the rubbish police had been informed, but the implication was clear.

The delivery of the bins to each city household has not been without its problems. A monster road train (multiply articulated vehicle) shuffles and roars down the street. Every so often, men hop off and wheel the bins to the front of each house. This is generally the most exciting (and noisiest) thing that happens on the street all day. Those who are at home to witness it usually pop out and join in the fun. Impromptu street parties eventuate. Cups of tea and gossip are swapped.

One such party was astonished to observe one of the bin delivery men steal a pedigree dog from the house to which he was delivering his bin. The dog, not unnaturally, objected to being stolen and added his voice to the general din. The street party, and the bin man’s colleagues, were collectively gobsmacked.

The man himself was quite astonished when a police car turned up. Who could have seen him? How had they found out?

"Just taking it for a walk, Officer."

He must have left his gorm at home that morning…

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