Green bin crews are at the heart of Leeds’s recycling efforts

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STEVE Hudson, 54, has been working the bin wagons in Leeds for 25 years.

In that time, he has seen the city’s waste disposal habits change beyond recognition.

Driver Stuart Myers with loaders Steve Hudson, left, and Dave Orford on their round in Rothwell emptying the green recycle bins. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Driver Stuart Myers with loaders Steve Hudson, left, and Dave Orford on their round in Rothwell emptying the green recycle bins. Picture by Tony Johnson.

“When I started, there was no recycling whatsoever,” he says.

“But now, most people ‘get’ recycling. It’s for the better I think.”

Steve has been on the same round, Rothwell and Woodlesford, for 21 years, and he loves the camaraderie of the job.

Fellow crew member Stuart Myers, 34, also loves his job, but admits it can be tiring.

On an average round, a team of four will empty anything between 800 and 1,400 bins a day.

And it’s not unknown for one person to clock up 15 or 20 miles of walking on a single shift.

Leeds’s bin crews collect around 500,000 bins every week in total.

Stuart says that much has changed in the city, even during his own 10 years with Leeds City Council’s refuse collection team, and recycling is now at the forefront of much of his work.

Alternating weekly green/black collections - already rolled out to 170,000 homes - are now an accepted and welcome service where available, and wheelie bins now inhabit almost every home.

“The job is better than when we were carrying bags up and down the streets,” he says.
Leeds has a team of 300 frontline staff helping drive forward its quiet recycling revolution.

The city adopted a long-term 30-year Integrated Waste Strategy in 2006, with the aim of encouraging people to reduce waste, recycle more and reduce what we send to landfill.

As reported in the YEP yesterday, the city has seen its recycling rates shoot up dramatically in the last decade or so. Rates have more than doubled since the strategy was adopted, and we now regularly recycle FOUR times as much as we did in 2001/02.

As a city, we produce more than 300,000 tonnes of waste a year.

Latest figures show that Leeds recycled 44 per cent of its total waste last year, on a par with the national average, but still behind several trailblazing cities.

However hopes are high that Leeds will soon be challenging the best performers.

The city uses a 75-strong fleet of vehicles, deployed six days a week, to collect and dispose of waste and recyclables across the city. The biggest Leeds wagons have a capacity to carry 12 tonnes of waste.

All the city’s green bin waste is transferred to a specialist sorting facility in Beeston.

David McGuirl is a supervisor based at the council’s Knowsthorpe Gate operational depot in Cross Green, and has nine wagons under his stewardship.

His crews alternate the weeks in which they collect black and green bin waste,

A typical bin shift starts at around 6am. The driver is first to the depot, checking his wagon over and making sure that he has got all the right tools for the particular round he is on. Other team members then get picked up at designated points, and start work from around 7am.

Each team could empty up to 1,400 bins a day.

“They are actually picking up a lot of weight, and depending on which waste stream they are working, the weight varies,” David says.

“This week they will be on recycling, and next week they will be on black bin collections.

“The weight of the residuals (black bins) is slowly coming down, because more and more people recycle.

“The crews are very good at what they do. I’d challenge anyone to say ‘all they are doing is putting a bin on’ because that’s not true at all.”

He says despite a concerted drive to educate the public - and improvement in many areas - many people do still put the wrong types of materials in their bins, which can hamper the service.

If and when that happens, a household might well find themselves with an unemptied bin with a warning sticker on it.

David says that despite the inevitable challenges of a huge, rapidly changing, recycling-focused operation, the city has a fairly smooth-running service.

“I think Leeds is well on the way there with its recycling,” he says.

“Obviously there are some areas for improvement.

“People can make these guys’ jobs easier by being more aware of what they are putting in their bins: garden waste in a brown bin, residual everyday waste in a black bin and recyclables in green.

“It’s all down to education, passing on the right information and following the do’s and don’ts.”

That education could come in the form of Jenny Tuddenham.

She is part of a team of eight ‘waste doctors’ who are deployed to explain green bin etiquette to the public.

She spends time speaking to people who have recently moved onto alternate weekly collections, as well as promoting the city’s successful free bulky waste collections and the benefits of re-use services and donation of ‘do-uppable’ items like furniture and electricals.

She says that although recycling has become much more culturally embedded, both locally and nationally, there are still issues. She acknowledges that information, or the way it is shared, can sometimes confuse the most ardent of recyclers, as can the vast list of items in Leeds’s ‘don’t recycle, can’t recycle’ list.

“There are certain things that cannot be recycled, and can cause some specific issues,” she explains.

“But we do unfortunately still get some of the wrong stuff put in green bins.

“Often it’s food waste.

“It could simply be because people have moved to Leeds from a different area where green was for food waste.

“And it can be confusing that different councils have different colours.”

Shredded paper, another green bin ‘don’t’, can get caught in the sorting machine and even stop it, but people do still put it in, she says.

And glass remains a perennial problem.

“Because we have a mixed recyclables collection, the glass can get smashed and that means it is not only dangerous for sorters, but it also cannot be separated and can ruin a batch,” explains Jenny.

“If you want to recycle glass, go to the bottle bank.”

Bottle banks, often based at supermarkets, are provided by the council, and contracted for collection to private recycling firms.

Other items that often get put into green bins, but shouldn’t, are “tricky” to handle textiles, explains Jenny.

And another green bin ‘don’t’ for Leeds is tetra-pak style drinks cartons, with 
waxy metallic linings on the inside.

Processing of these is a recent development, and few places currently do it, although Leeds’s neighbours in Calderdale have started to do so, helping drive their overall recycling rates up.

Despite some inevitable issues, Jenny is confident about the future. “Eventually, 
people will be recycling more and hopefully, one day, most things will be recyclable, because there are industries popping up everywhere,” she says.

“It’s really just about getting in the habit of it.

“When we are used to throwing things in one bin, it becomes a habit.

“But when the facilities are there, it’s easy to recycle.”

Leeds Civic Hall golden owl. Picture: Ian Heszelgrave

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