CONSULTANTS have been hired to snoop through residents' bin bags, the Echo can reveal.

Basildon Council has arranged for a team of specially-trained waste snoopers to rifle through black bags and pink recycling sacks left out by 150 homes this month.

It will not reveal which homes will be targeted, but a spokesman said they will be randomly selected.

Council spokesman Ray McKay said contents would be "systematically sifted and analysed" at the Barleylands depot near Billericay in a bid to improve recycling.

Basildon Labour group leader Nigel Smith said: "I am all for improving recycling, but is snooping through people's bin bags really the way forward?

"This will raise a lot of questions about where any confidential information that may have been thrown away will end up.

"It is a serious issue and more like Big Brother and bullying than anything else.

"Is it their way of checking if people are chucking recyclables away with rubbish before they introduce an enforcement system?"

Consultant MEL Research has been paid around £4,000 to sort waste by hand into 50 categories, ranging from food and glass bottles, to cardboard, tin cans and plastics.

Each will be recorded and weighed to show what proportion of rubbish thrown out is made up of different types of material.

Stephen Hillier, councillor responsible for environment portfolio, said no personal details will be stored.

He said: "This is highly important for the long-term development of the waste and recycling strategy for Basildon. It shows what residents are throwing out and allows us to plan for the future."

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs is funding the scheme.