Richard Lutz is reduced to writing about garbage.
The stuff is piling up. In front of homes, by the side of cafes, in front of corner shops, in back alleys.
Once again Birmingham city council, which runs the second-largest metropolitan area in the UK, can’t manage to pick up its rubbish. There are now 900 missed collections per day, according to our waste chief. He can’t promise when things will get back to normal. Or maybe this is ‘normal’.
My own problems, which reflect thousands of others’ troubles (most of them worse than mine) are emblematic. Rubbish lorries spaced out my recyling bins; they never came. This means paper and glass have sat outside my house for more than a week.
With a missed fortnightly collection it will now be a month of piling up. The glass can sit there. But because of four straight days of heavy rain, the paper, if not tucked inside the bin, is now mush. Soggy newspapers, sodden cardboard are strewn across pavements and streets. And as the missed collections multiply, that means more and more paper will sit on top and beside bins, naked to the weather.
I wrote to the council leader Ian Ward. Here is what I asked:
Once again the city’s recycling unit has failed to pick up rubbish on its allocated day – last Friday. I would say 50% of the time I have to bring it to the tip myself because the service is not fit for purpose.
Just who is to blame?
Please get it picked up. South Birmingham has never had it so bad when it comes to a substandard collection service.
I received no answer. Silence.
I wrote to who I thought was chair of the relevant waste service. His name is Cllr Bret O’Reilly. Here is what I wrote:
Once again the recycling collection service has failed to carry out its obligations with no apology nor explanation. Half of the city’s southern areas are left with recycling rubbish clogging streets and pavements. I have had to personally make too many trips to the tip to cover their negligent work, not only for myself but for the old and frail on my street.
Please get it picked up. And I would like an explanation of just what is making this service so undependable and unfit for purpose. Could I have a simple explanation please, and get my garbage picked up too
No answer, though I did find out when I rifled through his particulars that his three month stint as rubbish czar ended last month when he stepped down.
I phoned his successor, Cllr John O’Shea. He was very accommodating. He explained to me that there were difficulties with the new dustmen roster plan. It was a complicated task and there was no fast answer. Because of the inadequacies of the rubbish service (sic), the priority had to be rotting garbage, which is the weekly domestic pick-ups. Glass and paper would have to wait.
Cllr O’Shea promised to text me with an update about the city’s positions and my own problem. He said it would drop by Friday. Friday night came and went. Saturday and Sunday came and went. Today is coming and going. I texted him. This is what I said:
Hello Cllr, is it possible to text me with the info we discussed Friday AM about the recyling pick up issues? You kindly mentioned it would be sent by yesterday afternoon. Cheers.
Silence. I await his answer.
I wrote to my councillor, Martin Straker Wells. I called him twice and left messages. No response. I put in a formal online request for a missed collection to the council’s waste department. It was an email. At least the department answered my call for help. It sent me a text:
“Status update for refuse and recycling missed. Ref number 8019557024. Status: Request received.”
Oh great, a status report. But now silence. But at least the back office responded.
So, that is where I stand, along, of course, with thousands of others who pay their council tax, who vote and then get a service that is substandard, incompetent and not responsive to public anger – or to public health.
Today, I cram all my paper and glass in my car and take it to the tip. I’ll jam in some of my neighbours’ stuff too. I am the rubbish collection service. I am doing the council’s work. Because it can’t offer a commitment to public service.