Whereas school rubbish audits might have an educational finality by teaching pupils to sort the waste and recycle, household rubbish auditing undertaken by councils is an entirely different matter. As first reported by the Mail Online three years ago, in Lancashire, people’s wheelie bins were ransacked through by council employees, this time not for fear of any ‘environmental crimes’ but with the purpose of studying their contents. Moreover, when the issue of privacy came into question, a council spokesman replied that had residents actually known their rubbish was taken away to be privately analysed and records kept of it, they would have ‘acted consciously’. He also added that they had to be kept unaware of the fact that ‘they were being studied’.
Obviously, the content of each container was associated with its emitting household and data was kept on the findings. The purpose of this study, as stated by the same spokesman, was to examine waste trends, in terms of what was being thrown away, as well as buying habits – apparently, it’s not just supermarkets which want to keep track of purchased products (through loyalty cards). In fact, there is hardly any outdoor activity people engage in which is not monitored and recorded for posterity. Acknowledging the fact that had people been aware of this, they wouldn’t have thrown away what they normally do, is basically admitting that this practice is completely abnormal and invades residents’ privacy. Moreover, in some parts of the UK, where grey wheelie bins are provided for non recyclable waste, if a household produces more rubbish than initially estimated by the council and requires an additional bin, a Neighbourhood Officer is mandatorily sent to perform a waste audit in order to verify that.
Household waste auditing (on a voluntary basis, this time) is also used by certain organisations in a bid to help people learn how to sort their rubbish and minimise the amount sent to landfill, by using a practical demonstration on their own waste and encouraging them to change their habits. Whilst there is no doubt that the finality is a positive one, the method is still subject to a bit of controversy. The sheer willingness of some people to allow access to what was once considered private, as opposed to simply learning more about recycling from the plethora of available sources, leads to a somewhat dangerous precedent and the lack of opposition to undisclosed invasions of privacy, such as those carried out by councils, mentioned above. It is seemingly not enough for people to expose more and more of their daily trivia on social networking sites; now they are being encouraged to let strangers assess any aspect of their lives, including rubbish.