Refuse operators live in fear of accidentally killing a rough sleeper
The UK homeless crisis means that refuse collectors are now living with the fear that they could accidentally kill a person sleeping in a commercial wheeled bin as they attempt to stay warm for the night.
That’s a fear expressed by a Yorkshire-based waste and recycling company, which says that hundreds of people take the risk on any given night, bedding down in large bins set aside for paper, cardboard or general waste, either through homelessness or substance abuse.
According to Business Waste, Britain’s fastest-growing waste organisation, that means refuse collectors are having to check bins before they empty them, in case they accidentally inflict terrible injuries or even death on someone inside.
“It’s not just the homeless, even though that’s bad enough,” says Business Waste’s Mark Hall, “There are also drunks sleeping off a session on their way home, and even drug addicts.
“It’s terrifying for our staff to find somebody lurking inside on their early morning rounds, and they constantly worry if they’ve ever accidentally killed somebody.”
It’s almost impossible to tell how many people are sleeping in unsecured commercial wheeled bins every night, but Business Waste is certain that the problem runs into hundreds, if not thousands of cases.
“A bin behind a bank, shop or office filled with paper waste provides a relatively comfortable ‘bed’ for the right with a roof over your head,” says Hall. “But there is a genuine danger that the person inside might be too soundly asleep when the refuse truck comes.”
And that’s where substance abuse becomes a factor.
“People who are drunk lose their judgement, so they think a bin is a good place to hunker down and save the taxi fare on a rainy night,” says Hall.
He also says that wheeled bins provide a modicum of privacy for people using drugs. In both these cases, these people could be ‘too far gone’ to hear the approach of the bin lorry and make their presence known.
“In most cases, the lorry reversing klaxon is enough to act as an alarm clock for anybody inside, but the thoroughly drunk or drug users may be in a deeper state of unconsciousness and not recognise the danger at all,” he says.
Waste operator Tony tells of the typical experience of his trade: “We have a rough sleeper jump out of a bin on us at least a couple of times a week. It’s got to the point that you know which bins to expect them to leap out from. It’s really sad and a bit unsettling, but what can you do?”
And colleague Piotr says: “It always gives me a heart attack when it happens. One of these days we’re gonna miss one, and I don’t like to think about that.”
Both Tony and Piotr say that they’ve got in the habit of checking inside likely bins, just to be on the safe side. However, businesses could easily help prevent the problem by securing their bins at night.
“They should either corral their bins so that they’re behind closed doors, or lock their bins to ensure only approved people can access them,” says Business Waste’s Mark Hall.
“But it’s the poor refuse lorry operators who are the last line of defence here, and it’s a responsibility which weighs heavy on them.
With missing airman Corrie McKeague being a case in point, the issue is as vivid as ever. The missing RAF gunner is now thought to have somehow ended up in a bin on his way home from a night out, with presumed tragic consequences.
“It seems Corrie’s disappearance may have been a tragic accident,” says Hall, “And we cannot begin to think how the innocent waste workers are feeling right now.”
And Hall suggests this may be the tip of the iceberg.
“This is one tragedy that is being played out in public. How many other incidents involving homeless people who have fallen off the radar are going unrecorded?” he asks.
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