Wednesday, 20 December 2017 12:06

Refuse workers still fear accidental killing of people sleeping in waste containers

The increasing UK homeless crisis, and people intoxicated from alcoholic drink or drugs, means that refuse collectors are living with the growing 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 recently, following Biffa's pioneering work a few years ago, by another national waste management 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.

rough sleepers bin containersAccording to, 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," 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 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 intoxicating substance use 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.

rough sleepers bins main copy"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 Matthew 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 Janie 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 Matthew and Janie 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 '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."

A report in 2014 highlighted just some of the lengths individuals are forced to go to in order to find somewhere to sleep, especially in cold or wet weather.

rough sleep business wasteAccording to a survey of waste industry professionals, nearly a fifth have found people sheltering in waste or recycling bins in the past year. If this was not worrying enough, 16% of people found sleeping in waste containers were only discovered once they had been tipped out into a rubbish truck.

When this happens, an individual is likely to be injured at the very least and could be killed. In fact this research - supported by Biffa, the Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) and StreetLink - was prompted by a number of near misses and fatalities.

What the study indicated is when and where individuals are most likely to be found. Namely in unlocked bins, stored at the rear or side of buildings and largely in urban areas. It also highlights that waste professionals need to be especially vigilant in cold or wet weather.

The report also highlighted the practical steps that both the waste industry and charities can take to help combat the issue.

Waste management companies can tighten up their procedures. Perhaps one of the most significant learning points from the study was that two thirds of waste organisations did not have a formal policy for checking bins prior to tipping, which is one of the most reliable ways to make sure people's lives are not endangered.

Others can also follow the example of Biffa by providing their waste crews with the StreetLink number, so they can alert services if they find someone they are concerned is sleeping rough.

Report into people sleeping rough in waste containers