CROYDON COMMENTARY: We appear to have a new version of the ‘how many people does it take to change a light-bulb’ gag here in Croydon… Only this one, inevitably, involves the bins.
From the recent experience of KEN TOWL, pictured, it takes 15 people, including Town Hall cabinet members, councillors, council staff, contractors and housing association workers, between them taking more than six months and involving nearly 40 emails.
All to change one bin.
We promise, none of this has been made up…
On August 3 last year, sick of the ever-worsening summer stench of rotting rubbish, the growing rat population and the lack of opportunity to recycle at Pavement Square, in Addiscombe, I sent an email to Stuart Collins, the deputy leader of Croydon Council, as he had invited me to do a few days earlier.
Speaking at a Labour Party meeting, Collins had set out the council’s aspirations for an increase in recycling across the borough. He suggested that the council needed to educate residents to recycle more.
I took the opportunity to explain to him that at Pavement Square, we have a cage with five bins: one recycling and four landfill. On that basis, we would never be able to put more than 20 per cent of our waste into the recycling bin. There was every chance that we could recycle more. In fact, this bin was nearly always full and was often surrounded by piles of papers and bottles.
Every few days, I said, I scrupulously separated out my recyclable waste, took it down to the bins… and ended up having to chuck it into one of the (usually half-empty) landfill bins. A simple solution, I suggested, would be to replace one of these with a recycling bin.
In one fell swoop, we could double our recycling potential from 20 per cent to 40 per cent. We didn’t need educating to recycle here in Pavement Square; we needed opportunity.
I reiterated this in the email.
About 24 hours later I received the following:
Thanks for e mail,
I will talk to Officers Monday and make a visit next week, be in touch ASAP
And then, nothing.
In September, I sent Councillor Collins a photograph of the bin cage showing the overflowing recycling bin and the empty landfill bins. There was no response.
I took it easy in October, apart from mentioning the situation to Optivo, the housing company that manages Pavement Square in return for the residents’ hard-earned money. They told me that they had been in touch with the council.
Again, I heard nothing.
Prompted by bin company Veolia’s apparent failure to make a collection at all throughout November, I took another photo of the bins and sent it on to Stuart Collins.
I sent another message to my ward councillor Maddie Henson, asking if she might “nudge” him. Within hours, Councillor Henson responded. She did what councillors do – she passed the case on to the relevant council officer by copying him in:
Thanks for your email. I’ve copied in the director and the waste services email address who should be able to help.
The only issue is it might be the case that the council can’t issue a new bin until your management company formally requests them but let’s see where we go.
Cllr for Addiscombe East Ward
Little did I suspect that this was to be the start of a veritable clusterfudge of email impotence.
That same afternoon up popped a message from the important sounding “Director of Public Realm”, Steve Iles OBE:
Thank you for sending this over, I have also received via Cllr Collins, in terms of the bin configuration I have asked Mark Di Giorgio in my waste team to engage with the managing agent. Mark will update as soon as he can.
Steve Iles OBE
Director of Public Realm
Meanwhile, I thought I would give the management company, Optivo, another nudge, encouraging them to engage with Mark Di Giorgio:
FYI – the ball is in your court. You need to “formally” request a bin change, apparently.
The very same day, I received this encouraging response:
Thanks for providing information about the request of bins.
We are liaising with Croydon Council, so you can leave the arrangements with us.
Leasehold Property Manager
It looked like I could step back and let the professionals do their thing.
With Croydon Council and Optivo on the case and liaising with each other, what possibly could go wrong?
Five days later, on Sunday November 18, things were still looking up when I received the following confirmation that rather a lot of people were on the case:
Would you please arrange to swap over one of the landfill bins to a mixed recycling container at Pavement Square.
Mark Di Giorgio
Environmental and Leisure
Public Realm Office
With this email to Ellie O’Maley (at the council, and soon to be a major player in this saga), the diligent Mark Di Georgio had copied Tom Lawrence (also at the council, destined to be no more than a bystander to the sorry tale), Steve Iles OBE, and both Richard Kidd and Andrea Lowe at Veolia, and, helpfully, me.
So pleased that a solution appeared to be imminent, I sent a message of pre-emptive gratitude to Mark and Ellie and I copied in Thelma at Optivo so that she was aware of the imminence (or so I thought) of the solution.
The next morning she replied to Mark, Ellie and me, and copying in her colleague Ethel, asking me to confirm when the swap had taken place.
It was good to know that I could “leave the arrangements to” Optivo.
On Wednesday November 21, Ellie informed Mark and Tom and Steve OBE at the council and Richard and Andrea at Veolia, and me, that she had placed the bin on the delivery list for Veolia.
And nothing happened.
On December 16, I sent an email to Mark and Ellie, copying in Tom and Steve OBE, and Richard and Andrea and Ethel and Thelma and Maddie, outlining, again, the problem. I finished my email with:
All you have to do is provide a recycling bin (and take away a landfill bin). This would really help us with our rat problem.
Ellie replied a couple of days later, copying in the usual crowd and explaining that she was “not aware why the recycling bin was not delivered at the same time. I will chase the contractor for further information.”
It looked like I might be getting a recycling bin for Christmas. In fact, I got a nice jacket and some chocolate. But no bin.
It is, of course, a truth universally acknowledged that no one does anything over Christmas, so I let it ride over the holiday, went away, came back, chucked all my Harveys Bristol Cream bottles into the landfill bins, and then finally got round to asking what was happening. On January 15, I started a message with “Hi all”, and sent it to everyone with the addition of Stuart Collins.
I also suggested that I was thinking of writing about it in Inside Croydon.
By return, I received from Ethel at Optivo:
Thank you for your email, I am now out of the office and will return on Wednesday 16th January 2019.
Some people, it would seem, enjoy longer holidays than others.
Not Maddie Henson, though.
At 4.20 the following morning, Maddie sent a message to everyone, asking them to get it sorted out.
A few hours later, Mark sent me an email promising to get me a date for the delivery of a new bin and a smaller one that same day as an “interim measure”.
He copied in everyone else with the addition of newcomers Adam Jordan and Paul Bamford at Veolia and Kate O’Brien at Croydon Council.
I thanked him and let everyone know I was thanking him.
A few minutes later, newcomer Adam from Veolia wrote to Mark (and the rest of us):
I visited the site earlier in the week and could not access either bin area, I rang buzzers of a few flats but unfortunately nobody answered. One of the bin areas is a wooden construction and the other a metal caged construction. Could you confirm which bin shed the recycling bin should be delivered to and the general waste bin removed? Also, I will require the keys to access the sheds, can these be collected from your office? If this can be arranged, I can get the swap completed in the next couple of days.
Manager – Waste Operations Croydon Commercial
Things were really moving, if a little unfocused.
Within minutes, the erstwhile taciturn Richard Kidd of Veolia added his two penn’orth:
Please can someone confirm once a refuse bulk bin is removed the flats still have capacity?
There are guidelines in regards to refuse/recycling capacity I took a look this morning and would be surprised if a bulk bin was removed that residents would still have the correct capacity required.
Confident, now, that I was a mover and shaker along with the rest of them, I countered with:
Richard, we have more landfill bins than we need. We had enough before and one new one was delivered in error (when we had requested another recycling bin The landfill bins are mostly empty until they fill with paper and bottles because the single recycling bin is permanently full.
For clarity, I am referring to the metal-fronted unit that you can see in front of you when you enter from Lower Addiscombe Road.
Within seven minutes, Richard nodded his assent to my assertion:
Ok no problem, sounds like this is now in hand to be dealt with.
By now, I felt that my waste management skills were practically Tony Soprano-like. That evening, Adam summed up the situation to everyone:
Ok, so the general waste bin to be removed is in the ‘cage’ and it will be replaced with a recycling bin.
Elli – can you confirm what key is required and when it can be collected. As soon as I know this the swap can be made.
In response, Ellie (from the council) asserted that:
As far as I am aware there is no key required as I do not have one.
A little concerned, I wrote to tell them that they would need a key, they would know this since they would have to use a key when they collected the bins. I was, indeed, a goodfella.
But nothing happened.
Six days later on January 22, I emailed everyone asking if anything was happening. Ethel (at Optivo, the one who’d been “away” until January 16), replied by return:
Thank you for your email, I am now out of the office and will return on Wednesday 23rd January 2019.
The next day, however, Richard sent the following enigmatic note to everyone (though not, curiously, to anyone called Dan):
Adam if you let Daniel Kidd know when the bin is being delivered he will meet you and let you in.
Dan – Can you get the key from bulk 2 so you can give access to commercial.
Adam replied to Richard (at Veolia), in an internal email shared with the rest of us that, though the “cage” appeared to be locked, it actually wasn’t. He promised that the swap would take place “shortly”. Surely every other recipient was as relieved as I was.
The next day Adam clarified the confusion with the following message:
The information we received was to deliver an 1100 recycling bin to 27 Pavement Square and remove a general waste, the bin was delivered on the 21st January to the bin store opposite this address. There were various emails going back and forth and the information regarding the other bin area was not picked up. Due to the nature of the development, the driver did not see there was another bin area at the other end. I sent him back yesterday and he remembered the site, but was unable to access the wooden store to move the bin to the caged store.
Thelma – can you arrange to move the bin to the other store? Please let me know.
So the bin had been delivered the previous Monday, to a different bin store, since “due to the nature” of Pavement Square, the bin store in the photograph could not be found and on Tuesday, at the second attempt, the bin, previously only apparently locked, was found to be actually locked.
Exasperated, I rashly sent this (to everyone):
I’ll give Optivo a week to move it. If they don’t, (and I have little faith – they don’t really do anything) I’ll move it myself.
Eleven days later, on February 4, realising I had painted myself into a corner and let everyone off the hook, I tried a different tack:
I can’t move it!
I am just putting the finishing touches to the Inside Croydon piece. I would like to finish it with a happy ending, or at least the promise of one. Anyone out there from either the council, or Veolia, or Optivo, like to take responsibility for this and get the bin moved to where it will actually be used?
Looking forward to hearing from you.
That evening I (and everyone else on the ever-lengthening recipients list) heard from Adam asking if anyone could supply him with a key.
I replied suggesting that any resident could.
This rather protracted tale (thanks, dear reader for your patience) does have a happy ending.
At 7.52pm on Tuesday February 5, Adam confirmed to Richard, Thelma, Mark, Tom, Steve OBE, Andrea, Maddie, Ethel, Stuart, Paul, Ellie, Kate and me that,
“I have moved the recycling bin from the wooden store to the metal cage.”
I have to go now.
I have some bottles to recycle.
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A stunning story of bureaucratic overload and incompetence. Lots of people promising to own the problem and then not doing so. So familiar these days – a story of our times!
That’s left me laughing, but really depressed. In another six month long saga, my multi-occupied property has been left with what used to be called “co-mingle” bins. When the new bins arrived, we were left with our two co-mingle bins which were stickered for bottles and cans. Unfortunately Veolia do not apparently recognise this type of bin any more, and we haven’t had them emptied since well before Christmas. The Council’s solution is to tell us to order four more official bottles and cans bins to add to the eight bins we already have but unsurprisingly we don’t have enough space.
I seem to remember that a certain former Chief Executive said of Croydon Council “Efficiency is in our DNA”. It has obviously been flushed down the nearest toilet by Negrini.
I always assumed Elvery was being ironic when he said that.