Michael Mobbs with his waste bins

Michael Mobbs is taking his own climate emergency action and will stop paying council garbage rates. It’s the least his local council can do if it’s serious about its climate emergency declaration, he says.

What happens when people accept in their day to day life that there is an emergency?

In Australia, we dial 000 to get emergency police, ambulance or fire help.

Bushfires in Australia prompt emergency responses.

For example, in the October bushfire emergencies in northern New South Wales, a farmer discovered more have 1 million litres of water had been taken from his dam, no permission asked, by bushfire fighters and planes to put out fires.

He doesn’t know if he’ll be paid but his preference is to have the water replaced – but with the continuing drought that is unlikely to happen.

“Emergency” is defined as, “something dangerous or serious, such as an accident, that happens suddenly or unexpectedly and needs fast action in order to avoid harmful results.”

For example, when both jet engines suddenly failed because a flock of Canada Geese flew into them just after take-off Chesley Sullenberger, within the pilot of the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on the closest safe place, the Hudson river, near Manhatten Island, New York, US, saving the lives of all 154 people on board. (The emergency for the geese was over for them immediately.)

During WW2 the technical TAFE college in Ultimo, Sydney, NSW operated 24/7 to train women to be plumbers, electricians and do jobs done by the men who had left to go and fight.

Who can imagine any local, state or federal politician, or a TAFE, taking emergency action like that today?

Consider, for example, the women in England who won the right for women to vote and whose motto was, “Deeds, not words”.

Their leader is someone who inspires me, Emily Pankhurst, and the photo shows her in court, charged with a public demonstration (she went to jail seven times).

Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and organiser of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new…”.

The Suffragettes fought militantly for the right for women to vote and adopted the motto “deeds not words”. Pankhurst didn’t think that speeches about woman’s suffrage achieved anything, so the suffragettes focused on direct action.

Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years and went on hunger strike, resulting in violent force-feeding.

In 1913, in response to the wave of hunger strikes, the government passed what became known as the “Cat and Mouse” Act.

Hunger striking prisoners were released until they grew strong again, and then re-arrested.

In 1886 Pankhurst was involved with the strike of girls working in the Bryant and May match factory. The girls worked 14 hours a day and were fined for dropping matches on the floor.

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Emmeline died on 14 June 1928, shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men (at 21).

Although the suffragettes had suspended militant activities, the outbreak of war actually helped the suffragettes’ cause. Women did jobs typically done by men and did them just as well. The vote was extended because of this, a trend towards increased suffrage for men too and an imminent election.

Which female councillor, the Queensland state premier – and any male politician who will criminalise demonstrations by law this month remembers it was female demonstrators –  females –  who chained themselves to England’s Westminster Parliament to get the vote for women and who paved the way for females to vote to get elected? Would they know what an emergency or courage is?

Who of us can imagine any of the local councils and state or federal Australian governments that have declared a climate emergency taking emergency action to save lives as did the pilot, the police, the ambulance and fire-fighting folk?

I call waffle on my local council’s June 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, Sydney Council.

Here’s why.

I put out my bins about once a month, usually almost empty, and never with food since 1978 when I bought my house.

Last month, October, four months after the council’s climate emergency declaration I asked council staff who provide the bins and set the rates to get me the smallest bins, 50 litres, and reduce the rates or no bins at all and have the charges dropped. They said, “no”.

They could not reduce my rates nor would the charge me a nil fee; the least I could pay for the 80, 70 or 50 litres bins was the same rate of $323 a year.

As landlords, not tenants, pay the garbage rates, there is no incentive or reward either for landlords or tenants to reduce waste, and, accordingly, no provision for a reduction in rent for tenants using smaller garbage bins.

Where are the property owner and tenant representative groups in this emergency?  Nowhere do I see them lobbying for user pays for garbage.

Last week I was given two 50 litre bins. Thank you to those council staff who dropped them off and took away the bigger bins.  The photos show I’ve added an uncomplimentary sticker to my bins (cost $72)

If any council took its climate emergency declaration seriously one of the first things they would do is provide a financial incentive and urgently reward citizens who stop or reduce their waste.

Without such action it’s just hot air, contributing to the hot air of which there’s already too much in Earth’s atmosphere. 

Ending food waste is a priority because it’s the third single greatest cause of our collapsing climate

The United Nations agrees that ending food waste is a priority because it’s the third single greatest cause of our collapsing climate.

So I’m not going to pay my council for garbage rates because I don’t use the service.

If councils, state and federal government declare a climate emergency we citizens should not pay them to continue to pollute and to damage Earth’s climate where they fail to take emergency action.

When we pay rates it’s our money local councils are using to pollute our climate. We citizens and property owners have the right to refuse to pay for polluting activities by others and which we don’t contribute to.

Rates, I suggest, should reward citizens who don’t cause pollution contributing to the climate emergency and which the council’s current garbage service is worsening.

This week I’ve written to each of the 11 Sydney City councillors asking them to do what the staff cannot do – change the rating system urgently – to reduce rates for those tenants and property owners who reduce waste.

And here’s the letter in full so any fellow property owners and tenants who read this may, if they wish, also write to their local councillors, even where their council has not declared a climate emergency.

Dear Mayor Clover Moore

Thank you and your council colleagues for declaring in June this year a “climate emergency”; I appreciate that declaration and your leadership.

I’ve asked council staff in both the rates and the garbage sections of council to get the smallest bins, 50 litres, or no bins at all and to be charged less. In response, the staff said they could not reduce my rates nor could the charge me a $nil rate; the least I could pay for the 80, 70 and 50 litres bins was the same rate of $323.

They said only councillors can change the rating system, so I’m writing to ask you to change the rating system urgently – this year, please?

In the waste strategy and action plan 2017 – 2030 council’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore – yourself – said, ““The City of Sydney area produces more than 5500 tonnes of waste every day and contributes to approximately 8 per cent of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Because landlords pay garbage rates there is no incentive or reward to either landlords or tenants who cause less waste.

Next month, from 1 December 2019, I will not pay the garbage rate of $323 to council even if councillors direct staff to sue me and obtain a court order in council’s favour

Council’s garbage rating system is a significant contributor to the damage being done to Earth’s climate and I do not wish to pay you my money to continue that damage.

May I suggest how council in November, 2019 may cut its garbage pollution and damage to Earth’s climate that its rates and garbage is causing?  Councillors could urgently resolve to the following effect;

  1. Stop buying huge new garbage trucks like the new ones just bought that don’t work as well as the old ones due to the larger turning circle
  2. Don’t commission external reports, consultants, studies on this urgent issue – it’s simple, and there’s no time for consultants in this emergency before every action taken by council
  3. Special emergency council meeting in November to:
    • introduce emergency rates to reduce garbage and provide financial incentives for property owners who reduce their garbage including a $nil garbage rate for property owners who don’t use the service
    • offer a nominal garbage rate for property owners who compost food and put no food into garbage bins
    • introduce emergency training for councillors, garbage collectors in composting and recycling with increase in pay to those who enrol in a fast track training option to be offered as part of the training package in December 2019
    • amend performance measures in staff and external contracts, and in the councillor, mayoral and deputy mayoral allowances that increase pay according to the amount of garbage reduced and decrease pay according to the increase in garbage
    • special progress report to property owners on actions and results by 20 December 2019 and every month thereafter
    • create additional jobs to detect fraud and illegal garbage dumping and to impose maximum fines for wrongful garbage pollution
    • offer priority in those fraud prevention appointments to garbage collectors who know from first-hand experience how garbage really works and what fraud is occurring

Councils in New South Wales have clear statutory power to introduce user pays rates for garbage under the Local Government Act 1993 –  Section 502 that says:

  • “502 Charges for actual use
  • A council may make a charge for a service referred to in section 496 or 501 according to the actual use of the service.”

With best wishes and a shared hope for action during this climate emergency,

If you, dear reader, agree we citizens should only pay for what we use, may I suggest that if you pay council rates, or are a tenant, and your local council has declared a climate emergency but is continuing business as usual garbage service pollution of Earth’s climate, that you write each of your local councillors a similar letter?

Your children can’t write those letters, only you, an adult ratepayer. 

If you go on climate emergency demonstrations – for which I’m grateful – and continue to pay your local council and its declared a climate emergency, may I ask you to consider this question, please:

  • “Which will prompt emergency action this year by my local council – going to climate emergency demonstrations, or stopping paying them to pollute and to damage Earth’s climate with their garbage service?

Finally, what do you think of this statement – offered with respect and thanks to Emily Pankhurst and her fellow courageous women:

  • Deeds, not words.

In 1996 Michael Mobbs disconnected his Sydney terrace from town water, sewerage and electricity and uses sun and rain water, and for 23 years no sewage or stormwater has left the 10 square metre garden; sustainable house. Data on buildings, waste, energy, water, food are in the blog. With four people, house energy and water bills are less than $300 a year. Designs and other projects are in two books, Sustainable House, and Sustainable Food

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  1. Love the sentiment but it all has no real understanding of the sustainable balance of economics and social issues that go hand in hand with the critical environmental concerns of dealing with a climate emergency & our waste recycling. However, we can’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater and stop paying our rates for council services that are soft rather than hard infrastructure. Your council waste educators, your litter bins and other hard or soft services like street sweepers are all paid for by our council rates.

    I’d love to see a user pays model based on truck scaled waste by the tonne or Kg using block chain finance. I’ve advocated commercial premises not have to pay rates when oping out of service provision. one WA local council even wants to charge my client for waste collection without providing the service at all….

  2. Dear fellow waste correspondents; terrific conversation being had, thank you all.

    There are two cost aspects to a private or public service – capital costs and running costs. For example: town sewer and water will have ‘fixed’ or capital costs, and running or usage costs. At my house, although the town water and town sewer pipes run beside my property I pay neither fixed nor usage costs as I don’t use them. The same applies to the main electricity grid outside my house; I pay neither fixed nor usage costs as I don’t use it, and the same pricing regime applies to town gas. A council garbage service will have some fixed and some usage costs. A sustainable endpoint is no town water or sewer – it comes from dams and has killed many Australian rivers and the life that used to be in and around them. The sewage goes into the mouths and tummies of whales passing by Sydney’s coast, and other marine life. In Singapore, for example – there are many like it – the sewage is turned into town water and also bottled and drunk as Newater and promoted by the Prime Minister there. Enough – I could give many more examples. Garbage is not a pre-ordained part of Earth’s systems. It’s just another consumer item, but protected from competition by its most potentially powerful competitors – we citizens. Let’s free ourselves of this monopoly pollution service in the next few months across Australia. Michael Mobbs

  3. Yep, everyone should simply do what Michael does and not pay rates, if they don’t use a service. So people that don’t use libraries, parks, community gardens shouldn’t pay rates. Then those Council’s should simply stop providing these in utopia as no one will need to pay for these via rates. They will be happy for user pays for everything.

    The major cost for the service isn’t the waste collected put out or the cost of the bin. The major cost is having a truck and driver that goes past your property every week, just in case you decide to put out your waste. The cost is the convenience, so you do not have to drive/ride/walk 30km in Sydney to the nearest landfill to get rid of your residual waste.

    No matter what you do, there will always be residual waste from any waste diversion process.

    If people start to elect not to put out waste (which is commendable) then the truck still needs to go out there for the rest of the community. So instead of being about self, maybe the aim is to reduce the frequency of the collections to achieve cost reduction for the whole of the community.Or encourage the development of driverless truck to collect the waste, but then that is a poor outcome for employment.

    The challenge is that as individuals we are at all different levels of sophistication of managing wastes. I commend Michael, but I think it is the wrong way to achieve that change that he desires.

    Mandating the use of recycled outputs and mandatory product stewardship will change the problem being an “end of pipe” issue to a paying for your “whole of life costs” for consumerism. This is the only way to switch the high costs of waste management through rates to paying at the point of consumerism. That is where the real change can occur across our society.

  4. Good morning, Janelle, Sue and Emma – thank you for your comments; terrific to have your ideas, stories and perspectives.

    The current system is clearly unsustainable and contributing significantly to more bushfires, more ice melt, habitat loss. All change has risk but the risk here is with staying with the broken system; the proposal for change offered to Sydney and all other councils involves those at the ‘coal face’ of garbage – the wonderful folk on the trucks and includes them; part of the letter I’ve written to each of my councillors includes these words: “create additional jobs to detect fraud and illegal garbage dumping and to impose maximum fines for wrongful garbage pollution
    offer priority in those fraud prevention appointments to garbage collectors who know from first-hand experience how garbage really works and what fraud is occurring”. Write to your local council and local papers now… ‘we have nothing to fear except fear itself… ” Michael

  5. Must be careful with this. If one can opt out from waste collections some may just dump rubbish elsewhere and save the money but not eliminate their waste.

  6. Aaah Michael Mobbs you remind me of the days before we were woke by War on Waste and China Refuse (e acute) and CoS was rolling out its personalized dumpsters and I asked to keep my bin and to pay my waste charges proportionally but it had to be a bin with a red lid and so Council delivered an original bin with a red lid but wouldn’t reduce the charges and how the collectors hated that defiant little bin and I found it here and there but never by the door until one day it disappeared into the back of the collection truck and I was reduced to being like the rest. So yah to small bins and proportional waste charges (wasn’t the number and address on the personalized dumpsters so we’d be charged for the waste we produced? And yah to the halcyon days when Sydney streets were free of little dumpsters.
    From the bush where the blokes are still in charge except for the Nats who are currently at re-education camp in NZ, the Sufferagettes are few and far between and where you pay to dispose if you collect roadside rubbish.

  7. You are right, Michael Mobbs. Councils became so good at dealing with our waste that it has contributed to the culture of “not my problem”. Industries, councils and residents need to work together to create a model where we are all incentivised to reduce our waste. The cost savings to Councils and therefore rate payers would allow Councils to invest in more critical services on our behalf.