Kirklees Council's green bin crackdown was “shambles” from the start claims worker

A bin sticker of the type handed out by bin advisors in Kirklees
A bin sticker of the type handed out by bin advisors in Kirklees

An agency worker who was one of 12 bin inspectors hired by Kirklees Council to check the contents of green bins has said the £80,000 project was “a shambles” from the start.

He revealed that workers were subjected to verbal abuse and threats of violence on a daily basis from members of the public who were angry at being “penalised” by the council.

Recalling his brief stint as a Recycling and Waste Advisor the 30-year-old, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “It wasn’t an easy job.

“We got some right abuse from people. It wasn’t nice.

“I got chased down the street by a man with a wooden bar.

“This man had put a few glass bottles in his bin. I refused to empty it and put a sticker on it. I got down the road and the next thing I knew he was coming at me with a bar.

“Something like that is really frightening. I was nearly in tears about it.

“But that was common. That was the reaction that we were getting from people.”

The council’s bin inspections went live in April, with advisers accompanying refuse crews to check the contents of green bins in South Kirklees. A yellow sticker was placed on bins containing any incorrect items.

Residents were then meant to receive a letter advising how to better recycle their waste, along with a warning that their bin could be seized for six months if they continued to flout the rules.

The drive soon proved controversial and unpopular. By mid-May the council had seized more than 1,300 bins prompting a storm of criticism.

It meant a roll-out in North Kirklees was delayed and the hardline policy was dramatically reined back.

The scheme was meant to end in late July. However the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the temporary contract has been extended, with inspectors continuing to cover Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

The council urged members of the public not to abuse its staff following a number of unpleasant incidents.

In Slaithwaite an advisor was confronted by an angry resident who removed a yellow warning sticker from a bin and stuck it onto their forehead.

And in Rawthorpe a bin wagon was blockaded by residents who demanded refuse workers empty green bins that had been left behind on a previous collection.

“Advisors like me were in addition to six permanent advisors at the Vine Street depot in Huddersfield. Those are the people that knock on your door and hand out letters.

“Our job was to look in the bin, sticker the bin and log it on the tablet. That went back to the six advisors in the office.

“After two weeks we realised how bad it was.There were that many jobs coming in. Sometimes 1,000 bins a day were being stickered.

“By the third week they were telling us to ease off because they couldn’t keep up with the workload. It was a shambles from the start.”

He used pizza boxes as an example. They were considered a major no-no as they generally contained food residue. Green bins containing pizza boxes were initially stickered.

But when the number of impounded bins mushroomed, he says advisors were told to ignore pizza boxes and not to consider them as contaminants.

Mr Norcliffe added: “We didn’t know where we stood.

“We were confused. The binmen were confused. The public were confused.

“You can’t punish one person for it and then not punish another person. It was confusing residents. You either stick to it or you don’t.

“They changed the rules because they couldn’t keep up with the work.

“The notice [on what was considered contamination] from the council should have been out weeks before so that we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

Clr Rob Walker (Lab, Colne Valley), the council’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Environment, admitted in July that the decision to impound people’s bins had been wrong.

He said: “We need to be honest about this: we didn’t get this entirely right but we’re going to learn from it.”

But whilst the programme cost the authority £80,000 it led to a sharp reduction in the amount of green waste being rejected: down from 33% to 6%.

Kirklees Council said it could eventually save £440,000 by boosting recycling rates.

It is now recycling an extra 35 tonnes of rubbish every week – the equivalent of six full bin wagons of waste.

It has ambitions to lift its recycling rates to become “one of the best boroughs in the country” and expects its next set of recycling results to have improved.

Kirklees’ recycling rate during 2017/18 was 27%, falling well below the national average of 45%.

Kirklees Council was asked to comment on the extension to the bin advisors’ contract and to reveal how much it is costing.