It’s bin an experience!

Mark Thompson working on the bins in Peterlee
Mark Thompson working on the bins in Peterlee

How many bins can a crew of three men possibly collect in one day?

That was my main thought as I put on a high-visibility vest and jumped into a bin wagon.

Dozens? Scores? Hundreds? I honestly did not have a clue.

The answer to my amazement is 1,300 - along with scores of boxes full of glass.

That’s a staggering 10 tonnes of paper, card, plastics, cartons, aerosols, tins and cans - and there were six crews out on that day doing the same thing.

To get through that number of collections the bin men can’t hang around. They go from bin to bin without hesitation, plan their route to the finest detail and have an almost telepathic knowledge of what they are all doing.

I was joined by lifter Stephen Jackson, who at 50 years old and with 25 years of experience knows a thing or two about rubbish.

And he’s a big supporter of recycling, saying it is “unimaginable” now to think everything used to go to landfill.

“I’m all for it”, he said while having a break in the wagon on the way to drop off the first load or rubbish at a yard in Shotton.

“Everyone wins with recycling, so it makes sense”.

However, during my trip, the crew was often left frustrated to find recycling bins “contaminated” with general waste.

Nappies, pet waste and food are the most frequent items to spoil recycling, but the collectors have found all sorts from mattresses to TV stands spoiling the black bins.

It’s a problem for Durham County Council as the firms used to recycle the goods can refuse to use them if a load is too spoilt - at a cost of £100 a tonne to then send it to landfill.

The crew members are immensely proud of the job they do, and that can be seen in their clear disappointment as they point out bins that they can’t collect.

I chatted to driver Darren Steel in the spotless cabin of his wagon as he manoeuvred the sizeable vehicle around narrow streets using his 20 years of experience in refuse.

“I clean it every day,” said Darren proudly of his wagon which is only taken off the roads for the most extreme weather conditions.

“I take care of it because this is where we work, this is where we sit.

“We do take pride in what we do. It’s an important job that I think some people don’t really appreciate.”

When I got back to the council’s base in Peterlee’s North West Industrial Estate I chatted to James Lee, the council’s refuse and recycling area supervisor

He is keen for people to follow recycling guidelines to help the bin men on their tiring rounds, to help the environment and to save taxpayers money.

He said: “A great deal of planning and hard work has gone into the introduction of the alternate weekly collection scheme but it’s success could not have been achieved without the hard work of our dedicated staff. Our crews have been actively involved in the project throughout, helping to design the new routes and assisting in the smooth delivery of over 250,000 recycling bins.

“An now they are helping us with our biggest challenge – dealing with contaminated bins.

“Once again, however, the crews have risen to the challenge and are currently reporting between 400 and 500 contaminated bins every week.

“I am immensely proud of their hard work and would encourage the public to play their part in helping us to reduce contamination.”