IT'S pitch black and freezing cold at 6.30am at Craven District Council’s Engine Shed Lane depot, but there is a buzz of activity as the crews jump aboard the bin wagons and set off on their rounds. David Gridley’s crew is a man down, as one of the lads has broken his toe, but they’re in luck – the council’s chairman, Councillor Chris Moorby, has volunteered to come along and lend a hand. As we set off into the dark, heading into the Dales, jumping in and out of the wagon, David says you get used to the cold, the unfriendly dogs and the cat pee (they’re very fond of weeing on rubbish bags). “It’s not so bad when you get going, you warm up,” he says. “I enjoy doing the job, I like meeting people. We’re very lucky to be able to work in these areas. But when you get wet through by 8.30am, it can be a miserable existence.“But the lads still show up and still want to do a job. They’re brilliant lads, I couldn’t wish for better lads. They come in and work hard and do their job. I don’t have to tell them to do something, they just get on with it. It’s a world of difference when you can trust the lads you’ve got, it makes the job so much easier.” David explains some of the clever features of the wagon. These might look like bin wagons have always done from the outside, but they now feature some whizzy technology inside, including CCTV cameras, which are useful for all kinds of situations.
“It’s amazing what they can do,” says David. “There was a gentleman who complained about the crew and said they’d been abusive and the CCTV camera proved they hadn’t been.” There have been other changes to the way bin men operate over the years. A couple of years ago the Health and Safety Executive told the council it must review its bin collection services, as waste collection crews were at risk of repetitive strain injuries. Crews deal with hundreds of bins a day and many were suffering injuries by having to drag them up steep hills and along alleyway cobbles.
“We’ve been told we’ve got to stop running, and we’ve got to stop dragging the bins so far,” says David, who has worked in the service for 22 years in total. “It’s probably a good way to go. There’s been that many injuries over the years. “People say ‘you’re only dragging a bin,’ but they only see you doing one street. You come and try it! We do it in all weather, we’re out there doing it every day. You don’t get rained off like builders or roofers. You just go out and do your job.”
As we rattle along a tiny potholed lane, with sheep, partridges and pheasants scattering, David admits getting to some of the more rural properties can be challenging. “It can be a battle getting along without doing damage to the wagon,” he says. “The lads in the garage do a great job to keep the wagons on the road.”
As David drives along, his sidekick, assisted by Councillor Moorby, leaps out and collects the recycling together, tips it into the wagon and jumps back in again. It’s a whirlwind of activity and all carefully planned to visit all the properties as quickly and efficiently as possible. “Just watch that Alsatian if it comes out,” warns David as his assistants head off towards one of the more rural properties.
The service receives a fair number of complaints – with 27,000 bins collected each week, some are inevitably missed - but there’s also a lot of friendliness and warmth towards the crews. “If we’ve missed a bin we’ll hold our hands up and go back for it. Sometimes you get people arguing with you and you know they haven’t put their bin out at the right time,” says David. Councillor Moorby returns from one property, having got talking to a happy customer. “They were saying the crews couldn’t be more helpful, they come and get on with the job; they were very satisfied,” he says. In one village, the crew stops and help out an elderly woman who has forgotten which collection week it is. “With someone like that, we’ll wait for her and collect it, but then that’s all time and money,” says David. Finally, the rounds are finished and they take the recycling back to Halton East, where it will be taken off for processing. Councillor Moorby is impressed by what he’s seen and heard. “I think they do an absolutely fantastic job,” he says. “They work hard – the crew I was with were very courteous to everybody and the feedback I got from talking to the public was that they are really appreciated. I enjoyed getting stuck in. “It was a pleasant day when we were out there – it must be hard work in the winter with the snow and rain and in the dark. It’s not a job for slackers – they keep going and they work hard. I’ve learned a lot.”