In the summer, Patrick Edwards enjoys lounging on a green plastic chair outside his house on Meath Square in the Liberties, he said on Monday from that very spot.
From there, he has a view of the patch where neighbours often leave their rubbish in bin bags on collection days, and of the seagulls who tear up the bags and scatter the rotten food and cartons, and plastic trays from TV dinners.
Although, it’s not just the seagulls, he says. “The pigeons are divils as well.”
Between last October and April this year, at three spots on residential streets in the Liberties – including at Meath Square – and four spots on commercial streets in the city centre, Dublin City Council trialled a solution to this long-standing and messy problem of waste in plastic bags.
Owenbridge, a company which designs and makes BagBins, suggested them to the council after a pre-procurement tender inviting ideas to deal with this.
Residents and businesses got shared containers, called BagBins, which are folded and stored in an on-street hub most of the time, but unpacked and put out as shared bins for their rubbish bags on collection day.
People still had to pay for their bin bags from companies like Greyhound or KeyWaste, but instead of each person putting the bags outside their own house, they put them inside one of these centralised BinBags nearby.
“It does keep it clean,” says Edwards, echoing the main finding in the council’s report card on the trial.
But there would be challenges if the council wanted to scale it up, the report card says, listing issues around using public space for the hubs, responsibility for planning permissions, who would own and manage the storage and bins, and making sure they’re easy to use for people of all abilities.
The council doesn’t yet have plans to expand the project beyond the trial, said John Tuohy, a council administrative officer in an email on Monday.
“Instead it is proposed to first fully consider all aspects and implications of the initial trial report before making any further decisions about implementing or expanding any BagBin services,” he said.
Forty businesses took part in the trial at spots on Drury Street, on South Anne Street and on Capel Street, says the council write-up of the trial, which was coordinated by Dublin City Council Beta.
Businesses were already piling their rubbish in a single location, says the report, so it was easy to choose where the storage hub for the BagBins should go.
Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, says the trial was successful in the city centre for businesses. “Even when all the bag bins were full, and there were a few bags there, it just looked much tidier.”
Last week, now that the trial is over, Drury Street looked much worse again, with piles of bags, he says. “There were seagulls going at it, there were kind of pigeons waiting to go in straight after the seagulls.”
Of the 32 businesses that got back to the Dublin City Council Beta survey after the trial, 15 said they preferred the BagBins to the current method.
One business meanwhile said that they cause more litter around them. “As people confused them for public bins.”
Others said they thought the bins were dirty, and that it took more time to put rubbish out. “For commercial users, it would be worth giving these aspects specific attention to reflect these concerns,” says the report.
Three BagBins were trialled for 46 residents at three locations, on Reginald Street, Gray Street and Meath Square in the Liberties.
Feedback from residents was mixed. Of the 21 households who returned the after-trial survey, 13 said they preferred the BagBins to the existing set up.
The report says some residents objected to the shared storage hub and bins being placed outside of their homes.
The shape of the storage hubs and bins would also possibly need to be adapted for streets with narrower footpaths, the report says, or the hubs put on the road.
Others found their rubbish bags were heavy to carry down to the shared bins. Smaller and cheaper bin bags could help to solve that, the report says.
Making sure the BagBins would be easy to use by all is another issue flagged in the report and by residents on the trial streets.
It was tricky to use them at first, says Anita Reilly, who lives on Gray Street. “I got a black eye from it.”
She had been demonstrating to a neighbour how to use it and the lid popped off. “I thought it was funny, because it was like, I was trying to show off.” The containers loosened up eventually and got easier to work, she says.
Marie McGuire, out sweeping the yard in front of her house in Meath Square, said she wouldn’t have been able to open the BagBin herself, but there was always someone else there to open it.
“You just place your bags in it, and it keeps it tidy,” she says. “Best thing, yeah.”
A Bigger Ask
One problem was that the BagBins look a bit like public bins, says Reilly, so passersby sometimes toss their empty crisp packets and bottles into them.
Waste collectors would just take their own bags out of the BagBin, she says, rather than collecting the entire contents. “And all the miscellaneous dump is just left there.”
Reilly says the waste collectors should have to take everything from inside a BagBin, like a wheelie bin, she says, although that might not stop people from illegal dumping.
If that’s advertised, says Reilly, people might just fill up an empty bin with their rubbish, without paying.
Máire Devine, the Sinn Féin councillor, says the BagBins trial didn’t address every issue with how rubbish is managed in some areas of the city, including illegal dumping.
“There were still bags being put out beside the BagBins, being put out overnight sneakily,” she says, and the unpaid rubbish bags wouldn’t be put in a bin, so it would get ripped apart by pests.
The trial report also said that council workers found dumped waste bags inside and next to BagBins. “But we were not able to accurately measure whether the approach resulted in an increase or decrease in the levels of illegal dumping.”
Reilly, on Gray Street, says some older people just don’t have enough rubbish to justify the cost of collection. “So a lot of them would just put a little bag out. It’s still wrong.”
Sometimes, Reilly says she might add these small bags of other people’s waste to a less full paid bag, she says. “I would do that to keep waste down.”
She walks her recycling to the nearby depot on Marrowbone Lane, where it’s free to leave, rather than have it collected. “No way, I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
Although they made the place look cleaner, Reilly is not sure if BagBins is the perfect solution to the city’s problems with waste collection. But “I’d hope they would continue any project. I don’t know what project is going to work. I wish I had an idea.”
The council’s report on the trial says that Owenbridge put a proposal to the council in May that the council should roll out the BagBins across its commercial district.
If so, the council would need to go through procurement, get waste operators to all agree to the service, provide planning permission for stations, have liability insurance, and run customer service support.
Or, the report says, Dublin City Council could support licensing and approve stations run by companies offering this solution at an affordable cost.
For the next six months, Dublin City Council is going to look at what it has learnt and solutions to challenges it has found, the report says, and look at the procedures around the timing of waste collection and provision for compost.