September 28th, 2016

Behind the scenes of Stratford District Council’s recycling and refuse operation

Updated: 10:21 am, Sep 19, 2016

STRATFORD District Council was among the top ten authorities in the country for recycling rates in 2015.

Almost 60 per cent of all waste was recycled by residents and while council bosses are pleased with the figure, they are also keen to see it improve.

To mark National Recycling Week, Observer Deputy Editor Laura Maltby joined one of the recycling teams for a morning on the bins.

IT’S all a load of rubbish isn’t it?

I can’t say I’ve ever paid attention to what bins are kept at the side of my house or to what goes in them for that matter.

And as for recycling, it’s safe to say I’ve got a lot to learn.

So when I was offered the chance for a behind-the-scenes – or should that be behind-the-bins – tour with the council’s contractor Biffa, I decided to jump on board.

During the drive, senior supervisor Roy Compton filled me in on the scale of the operation in Stratford district, which sees bins collected from 84,000 properties each week.

It was back in 2008 the council decided to bring in bins for the first time. Long gone are the days where people could just throw out bin bags full of anything and everything.

Now there’s blue-lidded bins for recycling, green-lidded ones for garden and food waste and grey-lidded ones for general refuse.

On arrival at Wootton Wawen, I’m introduced to Sam – the man charged with driving the 26-tonne refuse van.

He is soon navigating tight bends with an ease that belies his 22 years and as well as being responsible for himself and the van, Sam also has to keep a close eye on his co-workers, bin men Chris and Lee.

On the road from 6.15am come rain or shine, a single day can see the lads walk between ten and 12 miles.

The majority of bins are placed at the end of drives but the elderly and those with disability issues are able to take advantage of the council’s assisted collection scheme service, which entitles them to a back door collection service.

The team accept most items – newspapers, magazines, cardboard, plastic bottles, cans, glass – while residents can leave textiles, batteries and small electrical goods in a tied, standard-sized carrier bag next to any of the bins for the lads to take away.

So what are the common things people get wrong when recycling?

“Sometimes people put nappies, food waste, polystyrene and plant pots in but these can’t be recycled,” Roy explains.

“Often residents put their recycling in bin liners thinking they’re being helpful but we can’t take those either as the bags aren’t recyclable.”

Known as contamination, I watch as Lee finds one such bin. He puts a sticker on the lid explaining why it hasn’t been taken before snapping a picture for the records, and less than a minute later, the lads are back on schedule.

Roy goes on to tell me some of the more dangerous items the team has come across.

“Dead domestic pets, circular saws and hand saws are probably some of the worst but it’s actually better now with the bins and everything being computerised.”

Technology is key to the operation nowadays with the 21-strong fleet of automatic vans split equally between the recycling, green waste and refuse teams.

All crews are allocated a PDA computer so they can record properties as they are collected and take photos of bins they may have issues with.

The vans are also equipped with on-board weighing equipment to let drivers know when a tip run is needed and four 360 degree cameras, which help ensure crew safety.

Biffa operate a DROPS campaign (Driving Recklessly on Pavements) where incidents involving cars driving on the pavement to get past vehicles are reported to the police.

Footage of these incidents is downloaded as some instances can put the bin men at risk and Sam admits this is one of the dangers the crews face daily.

Just over an hour later, the lads are done and on their way to the next area.

I’m astounded to discover we’ve walked almost two miles and collected around 2.5 tonnes of recycling in such a short space of time.

All in all, the whole team gather an average of 60 tonnes – the equivalent weight of five double decker buses – in recycling and empty around 5,000 bins each day.

It might not be as physical as it once was, but I’m shattered and I only lifted one bin.

Sam, Chris and Lee meanwhile keep going until the van is full at which point it is driven to Pure Recycling plant in Ettington where the recycling is separated and sent to be made into new products.

Green waste is taken to an in-vessel composting plant near Southam while refuse is disposed of at a landfill site in Bubbenhall at the cost of the council.

Until now, I had no idea just how much work went on – out in the streets and behind the scenes – to ensure everyone’s bins were emptied.

So the next time I get stuck behind a bin lorry, instead of beeping my horn, I’ll wait patiently – if only so I don’t get caught on camera!

Click here to find out more about recycling and refuse in Stratford district.

Stat attack:

– Stratford District Council is 9th in the country for its recycling rates

– An average of  60 tonnes of recycling is collected by the team each day

– Around 5,000 recycling bins are emptied per day

– Bin men can walk anything from ten miles per day while doing the job

– The crew’s job has changed from the traditional bin man as they now have in-cab technology, which provides instant collection detail to the council.

– They have also been trained in customer service, and can provide residents with contact details for the council.

– 360 degree cameras are fitted to all of the vehicles to help with crew safety

– There are 60 refuse collectors working 9 hours a day on average

– A further 23 staff work on street cleaning in the district

– Each of the recycling, green waste and refuse crews are made up of four teams of three as well as two teams of two people

– All told with office staff, more than 80 people are responsible for the bin collection and keeping the streets of Stratford district clean