22 June 2009

A feeding frenzy


Every year a feverish mist descends upon Auckland City.  The streets fill up with shifty-eyed prowlers who patrol the city’s suburbs at kerb-crawling speeds, hoping to spy a treasure trove.  Because, you see, once a year Auckland holds its inorganic rubbish collection, and this is the cue for half the city to drive around for hours on end, on the lookout for a life-enhancing freebie amidst the ruins of another person’s junk. 

I’m not saying that at this time of year Auckland is akin to the slums of Mumbai, with urchins picking a living from the carcases of a consumer society.  But the collection does bring out that great character trait of New Zealanders: their unerring love of free stuff. 

There are only two problems.  Despite the threat of hefty fines, Aucklanders have begun to put out their refuse earlier and earlier, so as to allow scavengers more time to find items worth having.  And the earlier the junk is deposited on the grass verge, the longer there is for the collection of junk to mess up the neighbourhood, as kids play with the junk piles and the wind distributes the contents hither and yon.  And the longer the junk is on the verge, the longer there is for the passing scavengers to rummage through the material, and there’s no way to ensure that they leave the pile as tidy as they found them.  (I should add that the pile pictured above, which is in our street, is a fairly well-organised one).

The inorganic collection is one of Auckland’s foibles: in Wellington, there’s still space in the city’s valley-filling public landfill, at least for the time being.  And it’s nice to see the spirit of recycling taking hold of the city and encouraging people to re-use other people’s discarded but often perfectly serviceable goods.  But as with many issues that develop in a city of over a million people, the collection brings its own problems, with unsightly heaps of rubbish hanging around Auckland streets for weeks on end.  It also encourages wasteful habits, because consumers are not held directly responsible for the cost of their large-scale rubbish disposal.  These concerns and others are summarised in the 21st century equivalent of talkback radio whining, the Herald’s Your Views column (from November 2008). 

The Herald has also reported on the clever Waitakere City Council scheme to offset the cost of collection by refitting and on-selling broken-down appliances that turn up in the city’s collection.  That story contains an interesting lead for a possible longer-term approach to Auckland’s inorganic rubbish collection.  Free inorganic collection has ceased in Waitakere, and now residents must pay for a collection, which occurs inside their property, rather than on the street.  This defrays some of the cost of collection and prevents junk cluttering up city streets.  When the amalgamated Auckland Super City begins operating, here’s hoping it will adopt Waitakere’s approach rather than stick with the old-fashioned Auckland City approach.    

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