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Aberdeenshire bin crew staff say three-bin change will be ‘absolute disaster’

Aberdeenshire bin lorry
Bin lorries in Aberdeenshire. Image: DC Thomson.

Plans to only collect non-recyclable waste from Aberdeenshire households every three weeks will be an “absolute disaster”, according to whistleblowing council bin crew members.

Earlier this year, Aberdeenshire councillors unanimously approved £4 million proposals to overhaul the local authority’s household waste and recycling collection service.

Instead of the current two-bin, two-week cycle system, households will instead have to deal with a three-week cycle, and every home having three bins.

The council’s head of environment and sustainability said the plans are “being introduced to significantly increase the quantity and quality of recycling collected in Aberdeenshire”.

But members of the local authority’s household waste collection service from across the region, who have chosen to remain anonymous, told the Press and Journal that they and their colleagues fear the changes will make their lives — and the lives of residents — more difficult through non-collections, delays, and confusion.

Will the new system be too complicated?

Currently, residents in Aberdeenshire have two big bins per household, as well as a food waste caddy.

The two staff members we spoke to both raised concerns about the potential for confusion the change from a two-week system to a three-week system will cause.

Right now, most Aberdeenshire residents have two bins, a black one for non-recyclables, and one with a blue lid for recyclables, and each bin is collected every second week (with a weekly food waste caddy pickup as standard).

When the new regime is in place, every home will have a third, additional bin.

But one bin crew member we spoke to said: “People are already struggling with the current system.”

They added: “We’re dealing with people who are still putting food and nappies in the blue bin.

“We still get a lot of polystyrene which we cannot take, we still get a lot of glass which at the moment we cannot take.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I’m afraid a lot of members of the public are like that.”

Our January poll of 755 Press and Journal readers found that 85% of voters disagreed with the plans to add a third bin and move to a three-week cycle.

How will the new three-bin system work?

The plans for how your waste will be collected in Aberdeenshire under the three-week model.

Once the new three-week cycle system starts, the non-recyclable waste bin will only be picked up once every three weeks.

The other two recyclables bins will be one for paper and card, and a third, smaller bin which will just be for containers like drinks cans, cartons, and plastic bottles.

If residents don’t do their recycling properly and waste staff find the wrong thing in the recycling bins — for example if they discover a pile of banana peels in the paper and card bin — then a special tag can be attached to that recycling bin.

The waste crew’s tags tell residents what the problem is, urge them to remove the unacceptable item or items, and inform them that their bin will be picked up at their next scheduled collection once the issue is addressed.

One anonymous worker we spoke to said this tagging system could lead to delays once the three-week cycle is in place, as they argued more tags will need to be issued than before.

One worker said the changes could result in more recycling-only bins being tagged.

They said: “The more we start tagging bins — and we’re going to have to because the council wants the bins to be correct — the days are going to be longer.

“When a bin is tagged, it maybe takes about 40 seconds, but then you get to the next bin and that’s wrong, there’s another tag, and then that’s another 40 seconds.

“And when you start adding all this up, the rounds take longer and longer, which means we’re blocking the roads for longer, which means it’s going to be an absolute disaster.”

‘It’ll be left to the regular scaffies and drivers to explain these changes’

GMB says the council should be responsible for getting the messaging across to residents.

Stephen Massey, organiser for the trade union GMB Scotland, has appealed for the council to communicate the changes with residents.

He said: “The council has in my opinion done very little in educating the public about how these new bin systems are going to work.

“The sad reality is it’ll be the front line workers who will be left to pick up the pieces.”

Mr Massey says he believes “it will be up to the regular scaffies and drivers to explain these changes” to Aberdeenshire residents.

If the wrong kinds of waste are put in the wrong kinds of bin, it can lead to material going to landfill that could have been recycled.

His thoughts were echoed by one of the council’s bin crew members we spoke to.

They added: “The biggest thing for me is that proper training isn’t done for residents, there isn’t enough done to show them what goes in what bins, and why.”

‘During lockdown we were heroes, now we’re scum’: how Aberdeenshire bin crews face abuse just for doing their job

One of the concerned workers told us: “We’re the face of the council, so when we get there on the streets we’re the ones who will have to deal with irate residents that chase us down the road for putting tags on their bins.

“During lockdown, we were heroes.

“We’re back to being scum now for a lot of people.”

The bin crew members we spoke to said they were concerned about receiving abuse on the job.

Their fellow bin crew member added: “People go berserk sometimes when you put a tag on their bin and tell them this isn’t recyclable, that’s not recyclable.

“And with this new system, everything will be even worse.

“It’s going to cause delays, which means the rounds will take longer to do, and if more bins are getting tagged, we’ll get more abuse.”

Council defends plans and say it will cut recyclable waste going to landfill

The local authority’s head of environment and sustainability Ewan Wallace argued the new system will reduce the volume of rubbish going to landfill in Aberdeenshire by getting residents to remove recyclable waste from their non-recyclable bins, and sorting it out properly.

He said:  “The changes to the household recycling and waste collection services are being introduced to help significantly increase the quantity and quality of recycling collected in Aberdeenshire and reduce the volume of unnecessary waste going to landfill whilst complying with the Scottish Household Recycling Charter Code of Practice. 

“Waste compositional analysis of the non-recyclable waste bins in Aberdeenshire have proven that over 50% of black bin waste could be recycled if sorted properly.

Scotland faces huge challenges in tackling waste.

“By providing additional recycling capacity and reducing the collection frequency of the non-recyclable waste bin, this will encourage householders to maximise what can be recycled from their waste.”

When is this happening?

Mr Wallace said the council is planning to officially start the roll-out of the three-weekly system from spring next year in certain areas, and it will be implemented across the rest of the region throughout the remainder of the year.

The system is due to officially start next year.

“We are also investigating the potential of running a trial scheme within an Aberdeenshire community later this year,” he added.

Extra staff will be employed “throughout the roll-out” to work alongside the collection crews.

Mr Wallace said there will be a “widespread communications campaign in the lead-up to the service changes happening”, and households will get postcards advising them of the upcoming changes soon before they are made for their particular area of Aberdeenshire.

After that, they will get a “new service booklet and pictorial guide, detailing all the changes in full relevant to their collection address” before their third bin arrives and the new system is implemented.

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