That's rubbish, Pikitup!

Plastic bottles take a thousand years to bio-degrade and about 80% of them end up in landfills. (iStock)
Plastic bottles take a thousand years to bio-degrade and about 80% of them end up in landfills. (iStock)

THANKS, Pikitup, for your response to disgruntled Joburgers who asked if they would have to pay for the waste removal service they have not received for the last three weeks, due to a strike. (You called it illegal – there ain’t no such thing – strikes are protected or unprotected, not shadowed by the criminality implicit in that term. You may not like it, but them’s the facts.)

Your statement makes it pretty clear where ratepayers stand: “…the refuse removal services fee is a monthly charge that is based on the value of property as per the promulgated City's Tariffs. The charge cannot be itemised or allocated to a bin, nor the number of lifts per bin, neither is it based on the quantity of the waste collected.”

In other words, we’re not paying for a service – we’re paying another sort of ‘tax’ on your property. Because as I read this, even if the service was not provided for a year, we would still be required to pay the fee, right?

I’d quite like it if it was based on the quantity of waste removed, actually; when I walk around the suburb on waste removal day, I’m amazed by the amount of rubbish spilling over from the bins, the serried ranks of bags stacked up alongside them.

It’s a stark picture of what so many people spend their money on: empty Domino’s boxes, Fanta Grape bottles, Coke, MacDonald's…. Our household recycles rather casually and as a result never has a full bin. We’d score if quantity counted. And it would surely encourage people to recycle – which would reduce your landfill demands and labour and other costs, right?

We do have a very erratic private paper pick-up scheme here, but we have not been included in any official recycling scheme (suburbs west of the Beyers Naude Line seldom get a chance to share in the glories of modern civilisation, like recycling schemes and fibre optics networks – I am told we can only expect to get a Gautrain branch line somewhere close to the middle of the century, despite the fact that Ruimsig and surrounds are now being called the Sandton of the West).

Late in week three of the strike, I was watching our neighbourhood WhatsApp group anxiously, as street after street messaged that their waste had finally been picked up. (This was done by a private company as part of Pikitup’s contingency plan, I believe.)

Feeling left out and abandoned, I WhatsApped on Easter Monday, asking for any information. By now, when you lifted the lid of our bin, forlornly waiting on the pavement, you saw a seething mass of maggots. “I’m worried about the maggots,” I wrote. “It’s a public holiday,” one of the group replied. “Do the maggots observe public holidays, then :-)?” I replied. The joke was not appreciated, apparently.

Maggots give me the creeps, truly, but they’re not the worst health menace from rubbish in the streets. And we in the middle class suburbs, people with resources and money (even if it’s overstretched) have not been faced with the biggest problems. I am told that this strike has compounded the rat plague in parts of our city – the poorer parts, on the whole, although the rich are not immune.

There’ve been tweets about ‘big ass rats’ feasting on the mountains of rubbish. One result? I’ve heard of increased illegal sales of Temic (aka aldicarb or Two Step) as the cheapest, most easily obtainable poison; you should only be able to buy the stuff if you’re a qualified pest operator, apparently, but I can walk out of my door and find it for sale four kilometres away, on hawkers’ stalls in the Roodepoort CBD.

People bait food to poison rats; dogs by the hundreds pick the stuff up and die a terrible, agonising death. Children also fall victim to accidental poisoning, and I’m told this stuff is responsible for the majority of suicides in poor townships I visit regularly. More deaths could be the unanticipated consequences of this strike.

Going back to Pikitup’s statement: apparently the waste service includes bin collection, street cleaning, illegal dumping, litter picking and landfill operations, all funded from the tariff we pay for rubbish removal. Really? I know of illegal dumping a few kilometres from my nice green suburb, which has been going on for years and has, I am told, been routinely reported without results. Litter picking? Where?

I really don’t know the ins and outs of this strike, I don’t like the intimidation involved and it’s really weird to have JMPD vehicles in the streets, blue lights flashing, following rubbish vans.

But I know this: we had a spate of Pikitup strikes last year, terminating in an agreement that the Pikitup workers would be prioritised in a city-wide “benchmarking exercise on parity”. You must have known the possibility of another strike existed; why did contingency plans take so long to kick in, at least from a resident’s perspective?

And secondly, ratepayers like me are your employers. We can and should hold you accountable. Why are the same issues coming up over and over and over again? Why are you and your negotiators not moving on? (No, it’s never all the union’s fault…) Are you using our money honestly, fairly, and to our benefit? We’ll pay (we don’t have a choice) but we want answers. And this is an election year…

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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