Council to axe 'chip and bin'

SOUTH Norfolk council, the first in Britain to install microchips in bins to find out how much people were recycling, is scrapping the system because the technology used was rubbish.

SOUTH Norfolk council, the first in Britain to install microchips in bins to find out how much people were recycling, is scrapping the system because the technology used was rubbish.

Under the scheme 50,000 bins and 12 lorries were fitted with the technology allowing them to weigh the amount of waste thrown out by residents.

The Tory-run council ordered the switch-off of the microchip technology because it was beset with technological problems and bin rounds were being held up.

Up to a thousand bin lifts a day were recorded, but a combination of electrical, data, mechanical and hydraulic faults meant the system had to be repeatedly turned-off so the bin round could be completed.

The administration also feared it could serve as a Trojan horse for a pay as you throw bin tax after the government announced that five councils would be asked to trial the idea next year.

The council was given a £1.1m grant from Defra in 2002 as part of a pilot to meet recycling targets and gauge how much waste was being thrown out and the authority initially decided to install the microchip technology in Mulbarton and Bracon Ash.

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In 2005 the scheme was extended to all 50,000 households across the district in a move described as allowing the council to “celebrate successes and identify those who need more assistance”.

Council leader John Fuller said the five-year trial identified serious shortcomings including inconsistent and unreliable weighing data, computer problems, electrical and equipment failures and delays to the daily bin rounds.

“Any chip-in-bin system would have to accurately record the weight of every bin, every week, without mistakes, for a whole year,” he said. “But the system simply didn't work reliably enough.

“A system that sounded good on paper in London failed to work at 7.30am on a cold and wet Monday in December in South Norfolk. It was time to bin the technology.”

He said that staff persevered in trying to resolve data problems, spending hundreds of hours contacting the software firm, the weighing system supplier and the bin supplier.

He claimed the results now called into question the new pay-as-you-throw pilot schemes planned by the Government.

A Defra spokeswoman said the switch off decision was a matter for the council and dismissed the bin tax claims.

“Ultimately it is for local authorities to make decisions about the best waste and recycling schemes for their area, based on local needs,” she said. “Pilot schemes to create incentives for recycling will be undertaken by five local authorities next year, when current legislation is updated to make this possible.

When the South Norfolk scheme was launched bins were weighed in a bid to find out more about people's recycling habits. A “league table” was even drawn up, and in April 2004 villagers in Little Melton, were named as the district's top recyclers.

Residents there were contributing an average of nearly 28kg (61lbs) of recycled material per bin per fortnight.

This week Little Melton villagers were not especially concerned that the scheme had been scrapped, although were irritated by the cost to taxpayers.

John MacDonald, who runs the village shop, said: “It was obviously a waste of money. Maybe that money could be put to better use. I've never really given the chip much thought but if it got to the stage where they started to charge for excess rubbish, I might have an opinion on it. Like many things, I don't think enough thought was put into it.

“From a shopkeeper's point of view, I believe that the problem of waste should be addressed at source, not the end user. Some of the items we sell are double-packaged and in some cases, triple-packaged.”

Roger Constable said: “I suppose it's a waste of money, and if it's another cost to us it's a bit unnecessary.”

“The amount that's being recycled does need to be recorded. Waste is a growing problem.

Another villager, who asked not to be named, said: “I think it's a shame, but I agree with the council scrapping the scheme if it wasn't working. At least somebody has tried to do so something. I suppose they have to balance what they spend on recycling with how much it saves.”