Sunday 19th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Talking Rubbish!

Further to Enquirer editor TIM THORNE’s article “The Talking Bin” (published on 31st July 2023), Whitby Community Network (WCN) has kindly consented to the reproduction of some fascinating information as to how North Yorkshire Council (NYC) – having ‘inherited’ this spectacular cock-up from Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) – is spending taxpayers’ money in the waste collection realm.

Read on:

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Talking Bins

During 2023, 19 “talking” bins appeared in various places throughout Whitby. A Whitby resident used an FOI to enquire regarding the cost of these devices, and on September 27th 2023 had this reply:

Further to your enquiry below we can confirm that there have been a total of 19 solar compacting bins installed in the Whitby area at a cost of £106,875. The bins provide for x10 capacity of a regular bin and can be monitored remotely to ensure efficient and effective emptying as required.

That means £5,625 each! Given that this invited more questions than it answered, we used an FOI to dig further, and on October 24th 2023 had this reply:

Further to your request of the 28 September we can provide the following answers.

Regarding the purchase of solar compacting bins for Whitby, can you please provide:

1) The assessment of expected lifetime of a solar compacting bin, given the presence of solar power conversion equipment present, and the increased mechanical components (relative to a conventional bin):

“We are still operating compaction bins at Robin Hoods Bay that were purchased in 2015, so we expect these to operate at least as long”.

2) The expected maintenance cost of a solar compacting bin over its lifetime:

“We have purchased a 5 year maintenance package as part of the purchase of these bins, at the expiry of this we will review options for ongoing maintenance.  There was no separate figure quoted as part of the purchase regarding maintenance costs. To date there has not been any money spent on maintenance of either bin at RHB in the last five years”.

3) The business case for solar compacting bins compared to conventional wheelie bin containing bins:

“I can confirm that the council holds this information, however it is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This is because the information is already reasonably accessible to you, as it is already in the public domain. As part of Project Sunshine, the business case for solar compacting bins compared to conventional wheelie bin containing bins was decided at the legacy Scarborough Borough Council Cabinet meeting on the 17 May 2022, and all papers for this meeting can be found here – https://democracy.scarborough.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=108&MId=13969&Ver=4

4) Who and what department signed off on this decision:
“The purchase of the bins was undertaken by the former Scarborough Borough Council as part of an agreed public realm improvement project named Project Sunshine. Please see the link in Q3“.

Since the “business case” is not going to be shared, let’s make a series of assumptions, and see whether we can come to a conclusion about the value for money . . .

Standard Bin

Let’s assume that a normal bin (on average) would need emptying every day for 6 months, and every 2 days for the rest of the year. That makes 270 empties. Whitby refuse workers are pretty efficient at this process, so if we say 1 minute per empty for a normal bin. So that equates to 4.5 man hours over a year, per bin.

Talking Bin

For a compacted bin that is a tenth the number due to their compacting (assuming maximum efficency). So 27 empties. The only thing is, it can take multiple workers to do this due to the weight (has been done with 3 workers), so assuming the same 1 min per empty, that would be maybe 1.5 man hour per year.

Comparison

If we assume that each solar powered compacting bin lasts 10 years then each bin saves 30 man hours in its (10-year) lifetime. If we assume further that a refuse worker is paid £15/hour, then that is saving £450 over its lifetime. But a solar powered compacter bin cost £5,625 whereas a normal bin would be £100!

And that does not allow for the solar powered compacter needing a further maintenance contract for years 6 through 10! Note that we’re ignoring the fact that they are not user-friendly for people with disabilities.

If you can think of other aspects to add into this very basic calculation, please do let us know and we’ll update it. It’s always a good idea to check their working out.

  • [Editor’s Note: How is the compacted waste separated for recycling purposes?]

And then NYC wonders why it has a black hole of £25m.

“Thank you for using me”?

What a load of rubbish!

North Yorkshire Councillors Neil SWANNICK [Lab.], Phil TRUMPER [Con.], Carl LES (Leader) [Con.] and Chief Executive Richard FLINTON were given sight of this article and asked to comment by WCN earlier today:

At the time of publication, not one of them had provided a comment, leading to speculation that the ‘business case’ has not been made available to them, either.


UPDATE

On Thursday 26th October 2023, first NYC CEO Richard FLINTON, then NYC Leader Councillor Carl LES each came up with a response.

First Richard:

“Thank you for your email.

I can assure you that as a Council we are committed to delivering value for money. I am not familiar with the decision that was taken around the compacting talking bins that were put in place by Scarborough Borough Council. I note that your evaluation of it contains a number of assumptions which again I am unsure of the validity – however I will share your email for information to colleagues leading the Council’s Waste Service.

Kind regards,

Richard”

Then Carl (a better effort):

“Thanks for this. This is a scheme we inherited, so I can’t comment on the decisions behind it, but my approach is simple – I didn’t make a success of my business by being profligate with my own money, and I’m not going to be free with other peoples’, ie your, money. I won]t stymie initiative, but I will want to see value in all we do.

I think the CEx is looking at the issue you’ve raised in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Carl Les”

Councillors Neil SWANNICK [Lab.] and Phil TRUMPER [Con.] have yet to comment.

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