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FEATURE: What can you recycle? A morning spent with Slough Council's waste collection team

Everything and the kitchen sink – reporter David Lee saw first-hand the challenges facing Slough's waste collection service as he joined a team on their round to see what is being done to improve the town's less than impressive recycling rates

Greasy pizza boxes, a kitchen sink and a goat’s head – Slough Borough Council’s waste collection team have certainly had some nasty surprises waiting for them in the bright red recycling bins that line the kerbside.

And it’s clear that habits need to change with recent figures ranking the council as the second worst local authority in the South East of England for 2017/18.

On Wednesday I climbed aboard one of the council’s 16 waste collection trucks to join the team on Round C, who are leading the fight against the contamination of recycling in the borough.

Mike Livingston, in charge of navigating the 30-tonne vehicle around the streets of Slough, says: “Last year, when we first started getting really strict on what we were taking I had my crew out here and there would be eight or nine people mobbing them saying ‘take my bin, take my bin’.

“During half-term is a hard time because everyone is at home and people are out on the roads waiting for us.”

There is confusion, Mike says, about what can and cannot be recycled. Clean, dry cardboard is on the ‘yes’ list alongside items like plastic bottles, cans and newspapers and magazines.

But items like greasy pizza boxes will often lead to recycling being rejected by the Grundon Waste Management plant based in Colnbrook.

“I was putting pizza boxes in my bin and I work for the council so we understand. We initially didn’t know ourselves,” Mike says.

As the truck weaves around Slough, the challenge immediately becomes clear.

A communal bin at a housing estate in Windmill Road will have to be left for a week due to the presence of a kitchen sink.

The use of black refuse sacks for recycling also leads to more bins being added to the ‘did not collect’ list.

Mike adds: “We can’t see through the black sack and we have to sift through to check for contamination which becomes problematic because if there’s dangerous stuff in the bags like needles or glass we can cut ourselves.”

It’s not just recycling habits that need to change, but attitudes to the council’s waste collection team as well, says 23-year-old Sam Kingham, who makes up the Round C team with Britwell colleague Justin Easie.

“I personally think the public look at the bin men as trouble and don’t really care about our lives,” Sam says.

“They act completely differently around us to other people.”

Sam’s concerns are illustrated by an incident last year when he was knocked over by a car on his round in St Andrew’s Way, Cippenham.

He adds: “People start screaming and shouting ‘move your truck’ but when we’re down a one-way road where are we going to move a 30-tonne truck?”

Some impatient drivers await the team in Montague Road but the morning passes without a hiccup.

And Mike says as the battle goes on to make the town a greener place, communication is key to maintain harmony between the council and residents.

He even has a collaboration on the cards with SBC which could see the release of his rap encouraging people to recycle properly.

Mike adds: “One of the issues is residents are
ill-informed and not enough people know. If residents can help me, I can help Grundon and this whole thing can be harmonious.”

A Slough Borough Council spokeswoman said: “We understand it can be frustrating for a full bin to be left at the side of the road but bin operatives cannot empty red bins that will contaminate an entire load which will then be rejected, and cost the council more money to dispose of.

“Any abuse towards people doing their job is unacceptable.

“The recycling market has changed in recent years and the council’s waste partner Grundon supply recycling to genuine streams in the UK.

“They demand a high quality of recycling and this summer the council is aiming to make it easier for residents to do their bit at the start of the process with clear information.

“We accept just four categories for recycling which need to be clean and dry – glass bottles and jars, food and drink cans, plastic in a bottle shape and clean paper and cardboard.”

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