Bad Chair Day at the skips

IssueJuly - August 2008
Feature by Genny Bove

The facts are fairly straightforward, although whenever I recount the tale, my listener’s jaw drops. “They did what?” But the authorities are deadly serious. This is what happened:

2 May. While doing my recycling at my local household “recycling” centre, I spot four good plastic garden chairs in the skip destined for landfill and remove them so that they can be re-used.
When challenged by Waste Recycling Group (WRG) skip worker and his supervisor, I refuse to put them back because to do so will condemn these chairs to landfill, where they will poison the earth and the air, a real and far greater risk to human life than the hypothetical risk that, according to WRG, the chairs may be faulty and cause an injury.
WRG discusses the matter with Wrexham Council and between them they decide to report me to the police for theft of said chairs.
The police generously offer to get it all sorted out nice and quickly with a caution, but I refuse on the grounds that I don’t think I’m guilty of theft, a serious offence carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.
The police decide it’s in the public interest to invest their time and resources on the case: time and resources which–to date–include two home visits by a police officer; an interview with an officer and sergeant at local police station; one arrest; a taped interview under caution with officer from local police station at the main police station–incurring travel time and costs; photograph, DNA and fingerprints being taken and filed; four separate grantings of bail to date; preparation of a file for the Crown Prosecution Service, including collection of video/radio evidence from media reports; and loads of paperwork, I guess.
The police work also very nearly includes: obtaining a warrant to search my house and garden because, with not even a hint of irony: “we have to recover the stolen goods and return them to their rightful owner” (so they can be put back into the landfill skip, presumably); setting up a video identity parade; bringing the sergeant down from an outlying police station to record me reading out my typed and signed statement which is apparently not in acceptable format.
Luckily, with a little persuasion they wisely abandon these additional policing tasks.
For me, the real issue is not whether I’m allowed to take good stuff out of a skip, but why the council is allowing good, re-usable things to be put into skips in the first place.
The waste “hierarchy”, as described in the Regional Waste Plan and other council waste documentation, places a clear priority on re-using waste items wherever possible; only items that cannot be re-used should be considered for recycling, recovery or disposal.
How is it that Wrexham council is signed up to this plan, yet fails to provide any re-use facilities?
Worse still, its recycling “agents” WRG are actively preventing people from re-using, and reporting such people for theft.
Bikes that arrive at the skips are thrown into the metal recycling when they could be given to children who can’t afford a bike of their own. Good furniture is sent to be turned into wood chip. Plastic chairs are sent to landfill. Shame on Wrexham Council.
The case also highlights the thorny question of how North Wales Police sets its policing priorities. It appears that, where discretion and common sense might once have prevailed, we now have a policing culture where every minor infringement is pursued in order to hit government targets.
Last but not least, there’s the huge issue of where the plastic to make our garden chairs comes from.