Big Brother bin searches double in a single year as councils snoop through the rubbish of 30,000 familiesby Jason Groves, theunhivedmind.com
October 16th 2011
Council snoopers went through the bins of more than 30,000 families last year.
The figure was double that of the previous year, despite a Coalition pledge to stamp out the intrusive practice.
It was revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Mail.
We can reveal that inspectors are building up a disturbingly detailed profile of families’ lives by rifling through their rubbish in secret.
In some cases, they divide the contents into 13 main categories and 52 sub-categories of waste.
Councils claim it is so householders can be targeted for future recycling efforts such as leafleting campaigns.
But campaigners fear this data could be passed to other departments such as health or social services.
The audits, which are held on a database, can reveal an extraordinarily sophisticated portrait from what sort of foods are eaten and what kind of goods are bought in a particular street.
Inspectors, often hired in from the private sector, check supermarket labels, types of unwanted food – and even examine the contents of discarded mail.
Councils were accused yesterday of using Big Brother tactics to ‘spy on residents with alarming frequency and for ever more spurious reasons’.
Nick Pickles, director of the privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, added: ‘Councils need to come clean with what they are doing with the results of these surveys.
‘It would be unacceptable for details to be kept of the contents of individual households’ bins, or any link to be made with other council records.’
In some areas the covert analysis is so sophisticated that specific streets are targeted to provide data on certain types of people, based on their social and economic backgrounds.
Council chiefs claim an analysis of the rubbish allows them to look at trends in a particular street and work out where resources should be spent to increase recycling rates.
In 2010 a total of 40 local authorities in England either carried out their own survey or commissioned researchers to do it for them.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has already banned councils from fining families who inadvertently put rubbish in the wrong bin. A source close to him said he was opposed to councils secretly rifling through people’s bins ‘as a matter of principle’.
In North Lincolnshire the council commissioned a study of waste from homes in its area to target specific types of households.
Families in parts of Scunthorpe were classed as being in ‘Municipal Dependency’ – characterised by living in large council estates, watching a lot of television and having low incomes and low aspirations.
In contrast the inhabitants of parts of nearby Bottesford were classed as being in ‘Suburban Comfort’.
The audit found that the poorer families threw out three times as much rubbish as the richer households.
Poorer homes were also more likely to have overflowing bins and discard more items that could have been recycled.
The inspectors even analysed electrical items which were thrown out and found the richer homes had discarded hedge trimmers, a watch, a calculator and a set of hair tongs.
The poorer households had jettisoned a vacuum cleaner, hair straighteners and a TV remote control among other items.
Other councils which conducted surveys included Coventry, Reading, Birmingham, Wigan, Calderdale in West Yorkshire and Surrey. Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said it ‘beggared belief’ that councils had increased spending on intrusive waste audits at a time of cuts.
‘Residents paying council tax expect to have their bins collected on time and regularly. They don’t anticipate that money will be spent on bin snoopers, rifling through their rubbish.’
David Parsons, chairman of the Local Government Association’s environment board, said: ‘From time to time it may be necessary to check that waste is not being thrown in recycling bins and contaminating recyclables which people have diligently separated.
‘A recent slight increase in contamination rates demonstrates why it is important for councils to be able to identify and work with people who misunderstand or make mistakes when sorting their rubbish.’
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