“We need to have a good idea of how people are getting more motivated with their recycling,” said Mr Bali, who gave his assurance that the data collection followed environmental protection agency guidelines and did not identify individuals or households.
The council does not fine any of its 325,000 residents for their bin performance, but uses the data to “fine tune literature” and target recycling initiatives to certain areas.
But while the environmental and social costs of low recycling rates are perhaps the scheme’s public front, money, too, drives the mucky analysis.
Rubbish clearing companies such as Cleanaway charge for separating non-recyclables from recyclables. Add to this the increasingly prohibitive costs of landfill – it costs Sydney councils about $230 to send a tonne of rubbish to landfill – and it is essential for councils to limit how much recycling enters rubbish bins and vice-versa, Anne Prince, head of waste management consultancy APC, says.
“Their incentive is landfill costs,” she said of councils who use the data to target and educate what she sees as a generally unaware public.
“They just put it in the bin and it disappears. If it’s not collected, they call the council. That’s about all they know,” she said of the average Sydney resident.
Rohan Miller, a specialist in marketing and a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, said the approach was constructive.
“They’re trying to do some good by attacking rubbish,” Dr Miller said. “If you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t manage it. We’re really heavy polluters and there’s real scope to better manage households.”
He said while we should all take care to shred personal documents, never discarding bank statements or bills, there were far more benefits to surrendering our rubbish to scrutiny than to consign it to the rubbish heap.
Ms Prince said trends had emerged across the city, showing hot spots of recycling activity and areas that were dragging their heels.
“There’s a correlation between socio demographics and household recycling performances, and single houses tend to be better recyclers.”
And for those still grappling with four bins, prepare for a fifth, dedicated solely to our kitchen habits.
“This decade will be about food waste,” Ms Prince said.
Five biggest recycling mistakes
Disposable coffee cups
Blacktown by bin bags
104,000 rubbish bins
154,000 pick-ups a week
24,140 tonnes of recycling per annum
97,555 tonnes general rubbish per annum
7132 tonnes of additional clean-up rubbish
15,000 mattresses collected last year
Diversion rate from landfill is 64.9 per cent
95,000 households have a 240L bin at a cost of $400 a year
8000 households opt for a smaller bin, costing $272 a year