Greater Manchester Suez recycling center workers speak out against abuse

Violence, threats and verbal abuse – this is the daily reality for landfill workers handling our waste and recycling in Greater Manchester.

Garbage gangs trying to dump their commercial waste at municipal waste recycling centers are the biggest cause of problems at landfills, staff say.

The source of tension is that commercial waste is not supposed to be dumped free of charge in taxpayer-funded landfills reserved for household waste.

But sometimes people crack just because they’re told which jump to use.

Now a new system that requires vans to register for permits and limits tipping visits to 18 times a year has been rolled out – and it’s working.

The permit scheme, which was launched in all Greater Manchester tips in December, follows other measures such as safety barriers and body cameras introduced by Suez which took over the city’s waste contract- region in 2019.

But staff say that before the measures were introduced their working environment was very different, with many people choosing to leave the profession.

About two years ago, a rush worker was left with a broken jaw and required surgery after being physically assaulted at the Longley Lane site in Sharston.

A worker was forced off her site by a stalker who showed up every day.

A disabled-friendly vehicle converted into a commercial waste landfill (Picture: Suez)

A disabled-friendly vehicle converted into a commercial waste landfill (Picture: Suez)

A disabled-friendly vehicle converted into a commercial waste landfill (Picture: Suez)

A disabled-friendly vehicle converted into a commercial waste landfill (Picture: Suez)

And a member of staff at the Spring Vale recycling center in Middleton was even followed home by a man who was banned from the site for dumping commercial waste.

However, before the barriers were put up, violators would come to the tip knowing that they could not be forcibly evicted until the police showed up, in which case they would have illegally dumped their commercial waste and left.

Speaking anonymously to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the staffer said he felt particularly threatened because he had young children.

“He was like, ‘I know where you live, man’ and things like that,” the worker said.

“You just ignored him, but at the end of the day he knew where I live.”

Garbage removal gangs have been known to cause spike damage and disruption by “destroying” cars and throwing nails at the ground to slash tires.

Sometimes fights have broken out just because a member of staff told someone they had put their waste in the wrong container.

But the “usual stuff” involves people being “in the face” and “aggressive”.

“You could just ask them to put some cardboard in the right dumpster and it’s like you’re standing on their mother’s grave or something,” the staffer said.

“As soon as there is an obstacle in the way, even the general public kicks off.

“It’s a weird environment where you think you’re just providing a service for people to throw away their trash.”

Another member of staff at the Reliance Street site in Moston says he experiences more tipping abuse than when he was a bouncer in Manchester city centre.

Staff say barriers and body cameras introduced in 2020 have helped – and the new van license program rolled out late last year has also made a difference.

Under the scheme, vans dumping household waste now need a permit to cross the barriers and can only use landfills in the city-region 18 times a year.

And the results speak for themselves with total tip van visits reduced by more than two-thirds between December and February compared to the previous year.

But now the battle for staff is to stop people from secretly dumping commercial waste.

Some have gone to great lengths to convert vehicles that do not require a van license, such as wheelchair accessible cars suitable for hauling commercial waste, and some motorhomes have also been converted to maximize space at edge.

However, the staff say you have a knack for identifying these “jobbers”.

“As soon as they come in you look straight out the window at them and you think, well this is Jim and Mora, 62 – they’ll be fine,” one said.

“And then if you see a car full of guys with bonnets up, it makes you think twice and then you get a good look at what they’ve got.

“You go a little deeper and make your own judgement.”

As well as preventing abuse aimed at tipping workers, the new van permit scheme is expected to reduce costs associated with Greater Manchester’s waste management contract.

Speaking at a waste and recycling committee meeting in March, business services manager Paul Morgan told advisers it is difficult to pinpoint how much money the scheme saves, but it is safe to say that it will contribute to savings.

The concern over the new van permit system is an increase in fly tipping – but councils have reported no significant change since the start of the year.

Staff say some people throw their rubbish outside landfills when they can’t get in – but they believe the permit system helps tackle commercial waste.

“You would see the same faces of all these traders and now you don’t even see any of them,” one said.

“They came 10 times a day and they don’t come at all now, so it definitely worked out.

“They raised the prices for the general public, then they took it to suitable places and paid for the waste,” he added.

“So they just added the price to customers, which is the right thing to do – everyone’s happy.”

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