There has been much hilarity about the unintended glibness of the Wasteserv CEO’s recommendation that we put our organic rubbish in the freezer, so it doesn’t stink while we wait for the bi-weekly rubbish collection.

Richard Bilocca (whose surname has lent itself to some witty references to chunks of icy banana peel and shrimp heads) will regret his hopefully spontaneous suggestion for years to come. This will outlast any public memory of his name. His ‘I have a dream’ moment will sit upright for decades alongside the wisdom vomited by the expert who assured us that traffic jams were but the product of our perception, which sounded at the time like she meant to say our febrile imagination.

Of course, administrators under pressure when their plans seem to go awry and the public’s simmering anger boils over, are prone to over-simplifications that, perhaps taken slightly out of their context, become just the thing the public’s memory sticks with.

When in the 2010s electricity prices went up during the daytime and night rates could be kept lower for the obvious reason that after a certain hour demand for energy decreases, the notion that activities that could be shifted to the night should be done in the hour of the wolf was put forward. Why don’t you set your washing machine’s timer to the early hours to avoid paying the higher electricity rates? ‘Oh, shut up, why don’t you?’, came the national retort.

God knows I’ve put my foot in it a few times in my sweat-laden career as a public administrator. There was the time when in 2001 I had the job of introducing in Rabat, Gozo, the first scheme to prevent long-term commuters from parking their cars in the town centre. Then in 2007 I had to tell people to park their cars outside Valletta and finish their journey on a minivan. And of course, in 2010 I fought a pointless war with anyone who was perfectly happy with the old bus system and was faced with the bad news of all the changes in the new one.

I’ve said things I’ll never live down and earned a lifelong reputation that needs no description. It wasn’t warm and fuzzy. Richard Bilocca is an innocent flower in comparison, albeit a smelly one when thawed.

The public fury that meets the freeze-your-rubbish type of PR disaster emerges easily when people can remember times when they didn’t have to solve a new problem with some genius idea … such as freezing your rubbish. Rubbish used to be collected from outside every door every day no matter its nature. If you cooked shrimps or made fish pie on Thursday, the waste would go away Friday. If you cooked it Monday, it would go away Tuesday. You just needed to avoid fishy extravaganzas on Saturdays.

That was more convenient. But it wasn’t better. The fact is that we had no right to complain about the burning, stinking mountain in Magħtab while our unseparated waste was collected every day from our homes.

Waste separation has been going on for some time. The simple fact of the matter is we are still producing too much waste and it is incredibly expensive to have it sorted out after we drop it outside our doors. But nobody knows how much it costs because the service is provided for free so we quite literally throw out waste like there’s no (bill) tomorrow.

There’s no doubt that some change is necessary. There’s no doubt that some change in our habits is necessary, particularly learning to generate less waste than we do without care to the consequences we leave behind us especially because we are used to being completely relieved of the consequences when they’re taken away from outside our doors before they start stinking and attracting rats.

The problem is that it’s not just the waste-generating public that needs to make changes. The failures of the authorities in waste collection are palpable and mostly self-inflicted.

Firstly, it should be obvious to everyone that the problems of breaches of the rules about waste disposal and the amassing of waste that spoils the air and attracts vermin are more likely to happen in places like Sliema and San Ġiljan than they are to be expected in Għasri and San Lawrenz. The reasons for this are also obvious. Population density is higher and land use is different. More people live in taller buildings on a square foot in Sliema than they do in Paola. Holiday apartments, rentals, Airbnbs, student accommodation, short-term leases: these are more concentrated in certain areas and less in others, and their patterns of behaviour are different when compares with permanent residencies.

It should be obvious therefore that the procedures and rules of managing waste in Sliema and Għasri ought not to be the same. Nor should be the frequency of collections be the same. Frankly people managing waste collection in Sliema have a different order of complexity in the job cut out for them than people managing waste collection in the entire western half of the larger island.

And yet, government has centralised waste collection and taken the responsibility away from Local Councils who could devise rules and policies (to an admittedly limited extent) that were relevant to their neighbourhoods. Instead, headquarters now hand down policies from the centre like the Ten Commandments down a mountain.

Devolution to Local Councils allows different contracting regimes, different collection times and frequencies, and specific solutions about shared drop off points that could be and would be managed locally. Because of course in tourist areas, someone staying in an apartment between Thursday and Sunday can’t be around on the following Tuesday when all organic waste is collected all over the country.

Secondly, and just as obviously, if you’re going to have rules, you’ll need to be able to enforce them. Local Councils used to have law enforcement agents working for them and they would dispatch them to enforce the laws that mattered from time to time. Right now, little else matters more for Sliema and San Ġiljan than catching people who ignore the rules about waste collection and turning those towns into improvised landfills. But law enforcement too was taken away from Local Councils because some genius thought that concentrating that in the hands of some party crony would be a better idea.

And here’s something which is relevant to waste collection and has never yet been on the agenda. Put simply it costs more to collect waste in Sliema than it does in Għasri not merely because there’s more of it. Consumer behaviour is different. Since there are more holiday makers and short-term lessees in Sliema than in Għasri you’re going to need to provide different solutions to collect separated waste at different hours, and perhaps from shared holding points like fenced skips.

It therefore simply does not make sense that a price of collecting waste is not applied in proportion to the cost of meeting the burden consumer behaviour imposes on the community. If you generate 10 bags of waste a week, it should cost you more than your neighbour who generates just 3. And if you own a holiday apartment from which organic waste needs to be collected more frequently or from collective holding points, then surely you should pay more than your neighbour who permanently lives in their apartment and is able to comply with regular collection times.

To manage that, Local Councils must be able to raise local taxes that are different in the same way that the service they provide must be different in Sliema and in Għasri and must be different when collecting the waste from short lets and from permanent residencies.

Policy, including tax policy, local autonomy, and law enforcement have as much a role to play in managing changing realities as does “educating the public”, as they like to call it, with novel ideas such as freezing your organic waste. Incidentally, wouldn’t dry composting your waste make a bit more sense, be a bit more hygienic, consume less electricity which has its own environmental burden, and be more helpful in the effort to reduce what is dumped? But that’s just me perhaps.

Take local democracy out of the freezer. Let neighbourhoods run themselves. Empower Councils to raise taxes for their services and make them accountable to the people who vote them in. Centralising stinks. Even Richard Bilocca might smell it.