Thursday, 9 April 2009

NOT PJ: Am I a rubbish lover?

This week Bernard Darnton gets dirty.

I like to think that I’m not a rubbish lover – as, no doubt, does everyone. But I’m being urged to become one.

At Mrs Darnton’s behest we recently moved to Christchurch. What really strikes you about Christchurch is the wheelie bins. Like a plague.

“And there came a grievous swarm of wheelie bins into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of wheelie bins.”

The fad for washing your rubbish and putting the shiny bits in one bin and the slimy crap in another bin – something I was familiar with from previous cities I’ve lived in – is considered passé in Christchurch. We are exhorted to Love our Rubbish. Here, every house has been issued with three hulking great wheelie bins. On certain days the city looks as if it’s been invaded by legions of the daleks’ retarded kid brothers.

You can hear the metallic voices of their overlords emanating from the Council chamber: “Expropriate! Expropriate!”

Along with the bins came strict instructions about what goes in which. Cardboard in the red bin, food scraps in the green bin. Get it wrong and you’ll never have your rubbish collected again. People have been paralysed by indecision, oscillating between their bins holding cheese-encrusted pizza boxes.

The pizza box problem is easily solved by following another Christchurch City Council suggestion, building a worm farm. Worms eat cardboard and food scrap – problem solved. The only hard part is finding part of your garden that isn’t covered by a fleet of wheelie bins.

Actually, there is another hard part and that’s that worms won’t touch onions, orange peel, or chicken tikka masala – the fussy buggers – and so you need two bins for food scraps if you’re going to be a hardcore rubbish lover.

Other instructions are confusing too. I can put meat into my organics bin but not dead animals. Does a dead sheep count as meat? What about half a sheep? A rib? Where do you draw the line? If I were Vietnamese could I chuck my dog away? If I were a National voter would dead rats count?

Worse than the classification quandaries, not every bin gets collected every week. The bins also came with a spreadsheet to calculate which days which bins go out. The idea is that you stick this chart on your fridge to jog your memory, an idea presumably inspired by the success of the Ministry of Health fridge magnets in preventing a bird flu pandemic. The difference is that the bird flu ones contained no information and so were very easy to understand. The details on becoming intimate with your refuse require a degree in discrete mathematics – a tall order when 25% of state-miseducated high school graduates can’t read a bus timetable.

Where once the rubbish was something kept in the corner and discreetly disposed of it’s now a central feature of everyday life. I don’t want to love my rubbish but it’s forced itself on me anyway.


  1. In our apartment building in Sweden, our rubbish room has:
    - large skips for general waste
    - container for paper/newspaper
    - container for soft card
    - container for hard cardboard
    - metal bin
    - PET bin (with guidelines as to what can and can't be recycled)
    - coloured glass bin
    - clear glass bin
    - compost bin (we are provided with an endless supply of biodegradable bags for compostable waste)
    - battery disposal bin

    Hopefully it doesn't sound too tough in Christchurch any more. Having said that, it hardly takes any time to sort the recycling, we have a crate under the sink with all the stuff in it and just cart that down the stairs a couple of times a week. Cans and plastic bottles are saved for the awesome machines in supermarkets that scan the barcodes, munch up the contents, and give you cash back (about 20c for every can and 60c for every plastic bottle).


  2. Does Christchurch not allow for wheelie bin competition?

    Here in Kapiti, we pay extra for our wheelie bins to the company of our choice, and they take away whatever you put in them. So, I put my pizza boxes, food scraps and garden weeds all in the bin and it gets taken away.

    However, they have just recently introduced recycling into green bins ... maybe the start of something?

  3. Amusing article, but really, if you can't understand the fridge magnet chart you must be a half-wit! Come on! There are serious questions to consider here:

    - what about the bottle mountain outside Christchurch, "pending recycling"?

    - what about the cost of all the hot water required to clean one's rubbish until it is fit to present to one's wheely bin?

    - what about the food/energy cost involved in the sheer effort of sorting and cleaning all of one's rubbish and placing it in bins, then wheeling these to the entrance to one's property, where hopefully there is a level place to put it, 50cm from its neighbour and not overfilled, or it will be ignored. If you are 90 years old with arthritis and osteoporosis, or live on a steep hill, or have a very long drive, or live on a private road etc. etc. then - tough.

    - What will happen when we get a really windy day?

    Perhaps it's better than the previous recycling system, but if it's worth doing, i.e. not uneconomic, why do the council have to charge us $80 a year for the privilege of participating (whether we want to or not).
    And - this is the council that are planning to send up spy planes with thermal imaging cameras to identify those not participating enthusiastically enough in "Earth Hour" (well, they haven't actually admitted that that's how they'll use the planes, but reading between the lines....)
    I'm rambling now (the effect of a bottle of wine!), but here in Christchurch we have a council of such buffoons that their deliberations and decisions are so crazy that they are usually conducted in secret lest citizens or the press challenge them before they become fait accompli. We really cannot afford to let them remain in office until the next election - but how can we get rid of them? Is there a "vote of no confidence" mechanism that can be used to oust local councils that are not performing? Help!!

  4. the drunken watchman10 Apr 2009, 23:24:00

    Bernard Darnton,

    you are the funniest writer in NZ.

    when is your novel?


  5. BTW, how does Lindsay Perigo qualify as a "cheerleader for Government" on your side bar? I thought he was one of the high and mighty libertarianz.

  6. I like your style Bernard


  7. SteveW, in reality yes you'd have to be a halfwit not to understand the chart.

    Having said that, I buggered it up this week because apparently the rubbish isn't collected on the Friday before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This is because Labour Department inspectors are hard at work making sure no-one's hard at work.

    Now the red bin's overflowing and won't be collected for another two weeks. The aging mountain of dirty nappies is now making the house unapproachable, even by Mormons.

  8. WE have an epidemic of mormons where I live, can you send the contents of your red bin - I really don't have time to re-educate them!

  9. Simple solution to the silliness. Take your rubbish to the nearest councillor's house and dump it in his front door. Extra points if you light it on fire.



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