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Report shows rise in rough sleepers sheltering in bins

The recent rise in homelessness has led to an increase in the number of rough sleepers taking shelter in waste containers, according to a new study by Biffa, the Open University and the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM).

A man sitting in a waste container

The new study follows similar research from 2014, which was conducted after a fatality occurred when a rough sleeper was tipped out of the bin they were sheltering in.

Since then, UK homelessness has increased by 70 per cent, with waste management companies encountering growing numbers of people sleeping in bins – 35 per cent reported finding people sleeping in bins at least once a year, compared to 21 per cent in 2014.

Highlighting that this is a nationwide, year-round issue, the report shows that 70 per cent of encounters occurred between January and June, with 30 per cent in the remaining period.

An image of a man in a waste container

The report calls for urgent action to address this issue, after data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirmed that there have been seven known fatalities in the past five years from people sleeping in bins. These include 48-year old Russell Lane, who died after suffering leg and pelvis injuries from getting stuck in a refuse truck in Rochester, Kent in January 2018, and 28-year old Jay McLaren, who was found dead at a recycling plant in Sunderland in December 2017.

Tackling the issue

Waste management companies have made some progress since 2014 – 39 per cent of businesses now have a policy in place, compared to 24 per cent in 2014, and 83 per cent now provide training, compared to 57 per cent in 2014.

An industry initiative in 2016, led by Biffa, Veolia and B&M Waste Services, committed to addressing the issue by pooling resources to share information and increase education.

Despite this progress, the report outlines that there is still a long way to go to prevent people using bins as a place of refuge, noting that only 40 per cent of commercial bins in use are fitted with working locks, which is unchanged from 2014.

The report includes several key recommendations to tackle the problem, suggesting that training and written policies should be in place for employees working at waste management companies, and bins should be secure and inaccessible, either fitted with locks or held in a locked area, with danger stickers provided for a range of languages and reading abilities. The report also recommends that anyone who sees evidence of a homeless person sleeping in a bin should contact a local homeless charity.

Biffa – which reported in 2016 to find three people sleeping in its containers per week – is taking additional measures to address the issue of people sleeping in bins, trialling ‘human detection technology’ across a range of waste containers and partnering with local homelessness charities.

Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa, commented: “Urgent action is needed now to raise awareness of the dangers of seeking shelter in bins. This new research highlights the need not only for the waste industry to take more responsibility for its own practices, but crucially for it to work with its customers to help tackle the issue.

“We are committed to leading this approach to promote policies and procedures for widespread adoption to prevent further tragedies. We hope this report highlights the issues that we all need to address and acts as a call to action.”

Petra Salva OBE, Director of Rough Sleeping, Criminal Justice and Migrant Services at St Mungo’s, who partook in the research, added: “Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous for the individual and for our communities. It is vital that Biffa takes the issue of people rough sleeping in bins seriously and is taking a lead in the industry to educate staff, raise awareness and change practice.

“We welcome the recommendations in this report and believe it will directly help to save lives. Going forward, we are committed to working together so that people in desperate situations can be found, helped and supported back into housing, good health and fulfilling lives.”

Trevor Nicoll, President of CIWM, said: “Continuing to raise awareness and share good operational practice is essential to help prevent people sleeping in bins. As the professional body for the sector, we are very pleased to be involved as a partner with Biffa and the Open University in this useful research. We hope it is the start of further work to reduce the risks associated with people sleeping in bins and strengthen collaborative working with homeless charities.”

You can view the full report on the Biffa website.

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