It's my suburb's kerbside collection week, beginning today. Once a year, Brisbane City Council organises the collection and disposal of large items of rubbish put out on the nature strip – the grassy bit between the footpath and the road – outside your home.
As you would imagine, there are rules about what you can and can't put out. Acceptable items include furniture, white goods, computers, televisions, small household appliances, carpets, baths, bicycles, sports equipment and 'small wooden products'. Unacceptable items include garden waste, bricks and concrete, stones and dirt, car parts, hazardous waste, glass or mirrors, liquids and household waste or recyclable items that would normally go in your waste bins.
You're supposed to put your items out the weekend before collection starts. To my mind, that's yesterday and the day before, not the previous weekend. Illegal dumping fines apply if things are left out either side of the collection period. In Hawthorne, however, stuff has been accumulating along main roads and side streets for at least a week. Frankly, it looks like a slum.
The system is open to abuse. I've seen tree branches and palm fronds, and loads of small items that should be in ordinary rubbish bins, such as nappy boxes, children's toys and plastic containers. Some people pile their items up neatly: others just chuck them randomly. Many small scattered items mean more work for official collectors.
This service means you don't have to take large items to the dump, or tip, if you prefer. Going to an Australian dump is an experience. We went a few weeks ago, just before we moved house. We hadn't visited for a while: last time it was called a transfer station; now it's a resource recovery centre. It's quite a palaver. There are things you need to know before you get there, otherwise it might become a bit of an ordeal. First of all your vehicle is weighed on a bridge-like contraption: if it's less than 4.5 tonnes, there's no charge for recyclable items. Beyond the bridge, you have to declare to the 'gatehouse attendant' the nature of the goods you are carrying, either for recycling or disposal (including garden waste). You need to deposit recyclable stuff first. If you have items that need disposing of, you have to go to another weighing point, after which you will be charged, unless you have waste vouchers, which you get given if you pay rates. If you rent and have a nice landlord, they should pass them on. We have never been given waste vouchers, and didn't know what the second gatehouse attendant was on about. At each point, the attendants will direct you to follow certain coloured lines on the roads, depending on the nature of the items. If this doesn't make much sense, I recommend you read this before venturing to such a place.
Back to kerbside collection… there's another phenomenon you need to know about. In the days leading up to the council collecting, lots of people drive round the streets looking at what's been put out, and taking items away they fancy such as a 'new' mattress or set of dining chairs; shelving or a cupboard; a bicycle or a tricycle. While running this morning, I saw a couple picking over a particularly messy heap along my route. The man picked up a plastic lid, examining it as if it were encrusted with semi-precious stones. He placed it in his van, which had its engine running while the couple fished. Australians often leave their engines running for ages. They might complain about doing it tough, but they'd use less fuel if they turned their engines off, and they'd help reduce this country's enormous carbon emissions – but that's another rant.
So, the streets are full of rubbish and the traffic is swelled by many utes and small vans and trucks belonging to those who want to see what they can salvage. The whole scenario is a bit weird. This morning the salvagers were in our road before sun-up, presumably before the traffic was too heavy or they had to go to work. My friend was awoken at 5 am: not only was that odd, it was antisocial.