UK: Council spends £60,000 snooping through bins on early morning raids

Teams of 'wheelie bin police' are swooping on residents' rubbish at dawn in a scheme costing a council £60,000 a year, it emerged yesterday.

Families have been woken at 5.30am by the noise of contractors taking rubbish away hours before the regular collection is due.

Inspectors then analyse the waste to establish what is being thrown away.

Lancashire County Council wants to find out levels of household recycling and what it could do to improve waste disposal and treatment.

But residents say the scheme is an invasion of privacy and a Big Brother-style intrusion.

Eric Green, of Chorley, said: 'If they want to check our rubbish then they should knock on our doors and ask to do so.

'The bins might be theirs, but the rubbish is ours and this is a form of snooping. I won't accept what they are doing - not at 5.30 in the morning.'

Another resident, Melanie Wallwork, said: 'I wouldn't be happy if I found them rooting through my bins - it's sneaky.

'If they want to check what rubbish I am throwing away then they should come at a normal time and knock on my door. I don't have anything to hide.'

Councillor Geoff Driver, Conservative group leader on the Labour-run council, said: 'It beggars belief that county council officers will go round rooting in people's bins without their knowledge.

'In these days of identity theft, the officers are putting themselves at risk that some residents might take extreme exception to what they are doing.'

Liberal Democrat Mark Jewell added: 'It's an example of the kind of surveillance society we live in and it's ridiculous.'

The collection teams wear high-visibility clothing, use a white van bearing the council's logo and carry letters to explain what they are doing. The council says the inspections, carried out twice a year on about 30 homes picked at random, are essential.

Councillor Tony Martin, cabinet member for resources and performance, said: 'We are trying to make sure people dispose of their rubbish appropriately as they are not supposed to throw items like electrical goods away.

'I apologise for us going early but if we go round at 10 o'clock most of the bins would have been picked up.

'These audits have enabled us to identify just what type of waste we, as a county, are throwing away. They are completely anonymous and do not report the waste arising from any particular household.'