Worried residents thought their rubbish was being stolen when council 'spies' dressed in hoodies started rifling through their bins.
Concerned neighbours saw mysterious men emptying their bins into black sacks and loading them into an unmarked white van.
When homeowners questioned the official binmen an hour later they learned their council was conducting a survey of what was being thrown away.
A hooded council snooper takes rubbish from a wheelie bin. Worried residents thought their rubbish was being stolen
Sneaky: A council snooper takes rubbish from a wheelie bin in this photograph taken by a resident. Homeowners thought their rubbish was being stolen
The 'spies' were part of a week-long waste analysis study by the Northamptonshire Waste Partnership, a collaboration of eight local authorities working to reduce rubbish going to landfill. An external contractor was told to go through the bins of residents.
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One thousand houses were targeted as part of the survey, including 780 in Northamptonshire.
But none of the inhabitants of Cedar Close, Irchester, near Wellingborough, Northants, had received any notice from their council about what was going on.
Resident Gillian Barnett, 61, said the snoopers made her feel 'very uncomfortable'.
She said: 'Three young men parked outside my house and just started going through my bins - I thought they were pinching my rubbish. It was very suspicious.
'We haven't had a leaftlet or a letter, all my neighbours were going round asking each other what was happening.
'If they'd had "County Council" marked on their van it would have been less concerning but as it was nobody knew what was going on.
'It made me worry about what I had put in the bin - I didn't know I was going to be fined or what.
'I heard this was happening in nearby streets like Pine Close too.'
Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, slammed the council for using 'Big Brother' tactics.
Worried: Residents of Cedar Close in Irchester, Northamptonshire had received no notice about the council's plans to sift through their rubbish
Worried: Residents of this street in Irchester, Northamptonshire, had received no notice about the council's plans to sift through their rubbish
She said: 'I'm cross they're doing this without our knowledge or permission and I'm concerned about their motives.
'The people doing this didn't even look official, they were just teenage-looking lads in hoodies.
'It's such an underhand "Big Brother" thing to do, spying on local people like this. It's alarming.
'It puts your back up and makes you feel vulnerable; we didn't know if we'd get a fine or if they were just looking at what was being thrown away.'
Another resident who asked to be anonymous said she was 'furious' about the council rifling through her rubbish.
'This sneaky behaviour on the part of the council is underhand and alarming.
'Taxpayers are sick and tired of being spied on by their councils, it is an infringement of both their dignity and personal space'
She said: 'How is this information going to be used? You just don't know. We weren't told anything.
'I'm still annoyed. It feels like an invasion of our privacy.'
Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough Borough Councils have authorised waste experts Resource Futures to go through the bins of people living in their boroughs as part of this survey.
This was to provide Project Reduce - a £138million government-funded enterprise headed by Northamptonshire County Council and Milton Keynes Council - with information about what was being sent to landfills.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, condemned Northampton County Council for what he described as an 'aggressive' campaign.
He said: 'This sneaky behaviour on the part of the council is underhand and alarming.
'Taxpayers are sick and tired of being spied on by their councils, it is an infringement of both their dignity and personal space.
'People are doing all they can to recycle, if they are throwing something away it's because they have to.
'This approach is unnecessarily aggressive and a waste of taxpayers' money and precious resources.'
But a Northampton County Council spokeswoman insisted the survey was purely for informative purposes.
She said: 'This is not a punitive measure and all data gathered will be kept strictly confidential.
'We just want to gather more information about what people are throwing away so we can target our resources to better meet their needs.'
A Wellingborough Borough Council spokesman added that the study was to help improve waste disposal efficiency.
He said: 'The council has been assisting with a study to provide information about the composition of waste we currently send to landfill.
'The information will be used to help find a more efficient way of disposing of household waste that cannot be recycled.'
Corby Council lead member for the environment Cllr Peter McEwan said: 'Landfill charges are currently in excess of £60 per tonne and rising.
'It is vital that we continue to search for cleaner, greener ways to treat and dispose of our rubbish.'
A Kettering Council spokesman said the work was completed in their borough last week, adding that the study was being carried out alongside household recycling and composting initiatives.
Bob Neill, Shadow Local Government Minister, said: 'There is growing public concern about town halls' powers to snoop on people's homes.
'Laws passed by Labour Ministers have created powers of entry for bin inspectors to enter homes and gardens. These must be scrapped.'
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