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Is EastEnders' bin-gate sending the wrong message?

The EastEnders are up in arms about plans for fortnightly bin collection, but why is the soap perpetuating negative myths, asks Resource’s Leonie Butler.

When soaps discuss waste
I don’t know what was worse, having to admit to my colleagues that I watch EastEnders, or the way the soap portrayed the introduction of alternate weekly collections in Walford. Both were rather embarrassing.

Living in Bristol, a city with a pretty good recycling system in place, I have often watched with disappointment when the characters’ TV dinners are scraped into the general waste or when a resourceful can is thrown into the nearest bin.

Someone at the BBC obviously realised that Walford was getting behind the times in terms of its recycling service, so, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago residents of the square found out that their general waste was now going to be collected once every two weeks.

The commotion this caused! And this is the borough of London where sleeping with your husband’s best friend’s illegitimate son who turns out to be your half brother’s uncle goes by unnoticed and where people can commit atrocious crimes without recompense.

Long-timer Dot couldn’t believe that they would now be expected to go two whole weeks before getting rid of their rubbish: “I mean,” she rasped, “what are we going to do when we’re up to our eyes in bin bags?”

We know the residents have had some communication with the local authority in the form of a circular delivered by postman Masood, who bore the brunt of the news: “One bloke chased me down the street to tell me how outraged he was.” To which his on-off girlfriend/daughter's mother-in-law Bonnie Langford replied: “I’m not surprised! This thing matters to people. I mean, what if we get rats?” Masood explained it was a distinct possibility: “When Hounslow moved over to fortnightly collections, there were rats the size of Mini Metros within days.”

Of course, Masood must have been confused, as Hounslow doesn’t go fortnightly until early next year, as part of a move to a kerbside-sort recycling system the council hopes will give the borough’s recycling rate a boost of 15 per cent by 2019, as well as providing an estimated £500,000 a year in operational savings. Just think how much more efficiently Albert Square could be policed if that sort of budget was freed up, maybe someone would find out what happened to Fatboy.

Later that week, the new recycling bins and boxes were delivered, and Jack and Kim exchanged what I took to be glances of utter disbelief. Lauren, too, looked baffled, but then she is just back from New Zealand, where recycling rates are practically non-existent.

Eight days later, and Stacey and Martin and the other five members of their household are feeling the strain. When Stacey ordered Martin to chuck out another black bag of waste, Martin explained that he would struggle: “The bins are already overflowing.”

Oh, EastEnders. What a shame you didn’t use this brilliant opportunity to make a more positive statement about resource management. To promote recycling and encourage your millions of fans to get involved, rather than just churning out all the old clichés.

When soaps discuss waste
Yes, Carmel. YES WE DO!

Apparently, when Corrie wanted some advice about waste and recycling, they called in The Rubbish Diet’s Karen Cannard to have a look at their waste reduction practices both on-screen and off. I don’t watch Corrie so can’t tell you the outcome, but Karen was effusive about the soap’s attempts to make recycling and resource efficiency a well-represented part of the show’s background.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, as part of its ‘Waste less, Save more’ campaign, Sainsbury’s conducted a very limited survey of British soaps (10 episodes of each) to identify those providing the best food waste message.

While the study found those up in Emmerdale to be the best at portion control at mealtimes, and the beautiful young things in Hollyoaks to be the most sensible shoppers, EastEnders were found to have the worst food behaviours, chucking away uneaten food and badly storing their groceries.

Maybe the council’s not to blame for Masood’s hypothetical rats?

Either way, I wonder – is Walford Council a member of LARAC? Is there going to be any door-knocking or follow up comms? How are they going to get the non-recyclers involved?

We await bin collection day with interest. Doof, doof…

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