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Our dustmen are simply rubbish

It's only Wednesday, but I'm already feeling tense at the prospect of next week's Battle of the Bins, when my neighbours and I shall rise as one at dawn, and hover at the sitting room window in a (usually fruitless) attempt to have our rubbish removed.

It will be a war of words, and of wits. Can I successfully convince the refuse collection operatives that a green bin liner is pretty much the same as a black one? What about taking this recyclable plastic bag of recyclable eco-nappies that the recycling lorry, for some unfathomable reason, won't take? Just as a special favour?

And while we're on the subject, what does the couple next door have to do to get you to remove the – oh look, you've driven away. Again. That's Monday's stress levels off the scale. And come Tuesday – recycling day – I'll be poring over the Plastics Identification Chart on Google, trying to divine the difference between polypropylene and polyethylene terepthalate, in order to figure out what on earth is – and isn't – allowed in my box.

I have a sneaky feeling that it's really all down to the capricious whim of the recycling chaps. Otherwise, I have no idea why a plastic box of grapes is taken but the lid of a plastic milk bottle gets left behind. Or why householders have been fined £200 for allowing stray paper to taint the cardboard pile, or prosecuted for overfilling their wheelie bins and taken to court for arguing too vehemently with the bin men (and, admittedly, pocketing the lorry keys in protest).

No wonder the subject makes me panicky. It's not enough to tear out those little plastic windows from every envelope, or wash out the dog food tins: they must be squashed flat into a perfect square with the label removed by steaming, folded in the shape of an origami swan and placed with the old newspapers.

I exaggerate – I hope – but it's difficult not to feel under siege, not least because some local authorities are secretly rifling through bins to carry out sneaky "waste audits" on discarded food, packaging and even private mail.

If you thought social profiling was confined to internet dating sites, think again. These days you're not just what you eat, but the stuff you don't finish, the wet wipes you used to mop up spillages, the used ointments you bought at the chemist and any number of other personal products. All these can be pieced together to build up a picture of you and your family. It's hard to conjure up anything more surreal, or more creepy.

And now I can feel my rage rising, when I hear whispers that the Tory pledge to reinstate weekly bin collections could be scuppered by the EU, on the grounds that resources must be directed towards improved recycling rates. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is pushing for fortnightly pick-ups to be scrapped, and is, we report today, hoping to bribe councils to that effect. But with the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, coming under pressure from Europe to hit tough green targets, and the Department for Energy and Climate Change sticking its oar in, it looks as though Pickles – and the homeowner – will lose out.

I'm as earnestly fastidious about saving the planet, one cornflakes box at a time, as the next suburban eco-warrior. But take it from me: the reek of fetid rubbish bins in hot weather isn't going to encourage anyone to rinse out the yoghurt pots, or conscientiously separate the old batteries and aerosols. Quite the reverse: it's a recipe for stubborn recalcitrance.

Call me a cranky old taxpayer, but surely rubbish removal is a right, not a luxury? And don't I pay for it – handsomely, too? Maybe it's true that you're never more than six feet away from a rat in London. But with fortnightly collections, they'll soon be snuggling up beside us on the sofa – at over 85 million and rising, they already outnumber the human population.

Will it take an outbreak of Weil's Disease to concentrate minds? Or just a mass boycott of green recycling boxes? Either way, I've had enough. Stop turning my used cotton buds, potato peelings and empty juice cartons into a political football – and please, just empty the bloody bins.


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