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Nothing gets us stirred up quite like wheelie bins

IT’S been about 30 years since I first crept into a council meeting. I was 20 or so, had no idea what I was doing, and industriously wrote down every word.

It was Brisbane City Council. In true journalism style, it didn’t take me long to go from mouse to peacock, claiming it up with my new mates, the councillors.

This wasn’t a bad gig, I thought. I could have a go at this councillor stuff myself.

But I didn’t. I had a date with mistakes on my own career journey. Since then, I have worked for and with a jumble of local and state governments.

I have helped with crisis management, day-to-day media and learnt and forgotten a lot about how those levels of government work.

I’ve been on one side of the desk or other for cyclones, tragedies, scandals, strikes and, just lately, a pandemic.

Which is why I was taken by surprise recently to learn just what it is that upsets people the most, what it is that can really whip them up into a frenzy. It’s garbage.

One of the councils it has been my privilege to work for has made changes to its rubbish service – I’m sorry – its waste management service.

Since then, I have found out that rubbish – sorry, waste management – really is the most important of the three Rs of local government’s rates, roads and rubbish.

People are sailing down the street to war on their wheelie bins, their household flags raised high, fighting for their right to dispose of their rubbish where and when they choose.

People are taking sides – pledging allegiance to the red lids, or to the yellow. They are confused, they are angry. They are waiting at the end of their driveways for delivery of their shiny new bin.

The customer service staff, who can take anything in their stride, have become full-time rubbish – sorry waste management – warriors, armed with a list of FAQs, soothing ruffles with reason and reassuring those who are crumbling under the pressure.

We don’t have a rubbish service at our farm, but I’m beginning to remember just how critical that service can be.

There is no mixing your wheelie bin with the one next door – who knows what might have been in that?

You have to learn the delicate balance between cramming your rubbish in the bin and not causing a split in its side. At Christmas, your bin feels like your best friend – you can’t take it out often enough.

Maybe it’s our wheelie bin that separates us from the animals. Without waste management, where would we be?

We are obviously in tune with the primal need to distance ourselves from our detritus.

After all, it’s hard to live your best life when you are weighed down with the leavings of yesterday.

Marie Low is a freelance journalist based in regional New South Wales.

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