Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bins, Pickles, Fracking and Chicken Tikka Masala

As eaten by Eric Pickles
 One issue that has been concentrating the minds of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board is the issue of weekly bin collections for grey bins. This ‘interest’ is not our own but that of the Communities and Local Govt Minister Eric Pickles. He has said something along the lines of it being everyones right to have the remains of their Chicken Tikka Masala collected once a week by the Council. Many Councils, like Kirklees have transferred to bi-weekly collections for grey bins for a number of years now. This has been motivated by a desire to cut costs in response to budgetary pressures and also to increase the drive for householders to recycle more of their household rubbish. To incentivise Councils to go back to weekly bin collections Mr Pickles announced a £250 million fund to help councils to convert back. He has also stated in the Daily Mail (where else) that further cuts could come to councils who do not go back to weekly bin collections. So is Eric’s position reflecting a general concern amongst the population? Not really. A recent ICM poll showed 74% of people were happy with their bin collections and only 9% wanted a return to weekly bin collections. Even with the one off grants on offer, changing back to weekly bin collections would put additional ongoing costs back onto Council Tax payers for years ahead. Most Councils have realised this and only one (Stoke on Trent) is using the funding to convert from bi-weekly to weekly collections. What we do know is that if we were to go back to weekly grey bin collections that recycling rates will decline further. Nationally recycling is at around 43% of household waste. We have signed up to an EU target to reach 50% recycling by 2020 otherwise we will be fined for non compliance. The target is of course completely achievable, it is just the nonsensical policies from central government that are making this difficult to achieve. What is somewhat perplexing is that the waste specialism within government is with DEFRA but because Eric has a particular beef about his chicken tikka masala he is sticking his very unhelpful oar in from the Department of Communities and Local Government. There was cross party agreement on the board that Eric’s view on bin collections was just plain wrong. Knowing that logic makes little impact on people like Pickles my suggestion was to approach the issue from a different angle. I suggested we write to Eric and DEFRA requesting a meeting with Government to work together on a Waste Reduction Strategy to stop so much waste going into our bins in the first place. Measures such as taxes on packaging and plastic bags have been successful in other countries so why not here? The Board agreed with this suggestion and I’ll let you know how we get on.

The issue of Shale gas was raised as a topic for the Environment and Housing Board in the context of the Council's planning role in relation to applications to establish drilling operations. Concerns were raised about the impact on chemicals in the water table and seismic activity but the principal issues I highlighted were the impact on energy policy and carbon emissions. There is a reported 8% leakage of natural gas from fracking operations which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The other concern I had was the fact that extracting the last dregs of fossil fuels to fuel the economy rather than proper investment in low carbon technologies is at best a distraction but more likely a disaster in its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The Conservatives on the panel were not swayed by these issues and talked of the boost to the economy and jobs it would give. I imagined the Captain of the Titanic giving the order to ‘Head faster towards that iceberg!’ Without a trace of irony or self knowledge one of the same Conservatives asked for concerns about wind turbines to be raised as a future agenda item.

We do need more ‘natural’ gas and there is plenty of this that can be sourced above the ground. In Europe, and Germany in particular, Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is big business. AD is the capture and usage of gas given off by farm, food wastes and manure to produce methane which can then be either injected into the existing gas network or used to generate electricity. This is a truly renewable gas of the type that we all produce from time to time, possibly after a chicken tikka masala!

So 'frack' or 'frak' was also the profanity of choice in the surprisingly good remake of Battlestar Galactica. Here's a selection of its use for your entertainment (or not)

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