Council 'hooded spies' checked binsResidents mistake waste team for rubbish thieves

29 September 2009


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A council has been criticised for sending out 'hooded spies' to take away the contents of rubbish bins as part of a waste monitoring exercise without informing households beforehand.

Residents who spotted men emptying their household bins into black bags and taking them away thought their rubbish was being stolen.

It later emerged that the mysterious bin sifters were actually official researchers collecting data as part of a week-long waste analysis study commissioned by the Northamptonshire Waste Partnership (NWP) - a collaboration of eight local authorities in the area. But residents were reported as saying the study felt like an invasion of privacy.

Bin monitoring

The NWP employed external contractors to find out more about what rubbish people were throwing away in order to improve recycling and waste facilities, surveying 1,000 homes within Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough borough council areas.

One resident, 61-year-old resident Gillian Barnett, of Irchester near Wellingborough, told the Daily Mail: 'Three young men parked outside my house and just started going through my bins - I thought they were pinching my rubbish. It was very suspicious.

'We haven't had a leaflet or a letter, all my neighbours were going round asking each other what was happening. If they'd had 'county council' marked on their van it would have been less concerning but as it was nobody knew what was going on. It made me worry about what I had put in the bin.'

Another resident who asked to remain anonymous said: 'How is this information going to be used? You just don't know. We weren't told anything. I'm still annoyed. It feels like an invasion of our privacy.'

Data 'confidential'

According to a Northamptonshire County Council spokeswoman, the survey was carried out for informative purposes and was not designed to 'catch people out'.

She said: 'Waste has been taken from a small number of random properties in each of the district and borough areas by specialists from the company Resource Futures. They worked separately from the usual bin collection services but were acting on behalf of the local authorities as their agents. As such, they had full legal authority to remove waste from people's bins.

'Guidance from the government indicates that if residents are given advance notice of such a study, it may affect what is thrown away. The waste collected was not specifically linked to a household and the results will remain anonymous and confidential.'

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