Three people a week found sleeping in Biffa bins

Three people a week found sleeping in Biffa bins
The number of homeless people found sleeping rough in recycling bins is growing according to Biffa, which says it finds approximately three people sleeping in its containers a week.

There have been a total of 11 deaths since October 2010 due to people sleeping in bins, according to the Environmental Service Association (ESA).

Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning (1 March), Biffa reported that the number of people found sleeping in the company’s commercial bins has risen more than five-fold in the last two years. In 2013/2014, 31 rough sleepers were found in bins by the company, while a year later that had risen to 93. There have been 175 so far in the current year (which runs to the end of March).

Tim Standring, Head of Safety at Biffa, told the programme that all the firm’s trucks now contain cameras in the vehicle’s compactor that allow drivers to see what is being tipped inside. However, some collection trucks lift containers up to six metres high before the contents are tipped into the vehicle’s compactor, so even if someone is spotted on the internal camera of the truck before compaction there is a high risk of injury from falling.

In July 2014, Matthew Symonds died after he was thought to have climbed into a Biffa recycling bin in Bristol having been turned away from a homeless shelter. His body was discovered at a waste depot in Avonmouth.

The BBC investigation spoke to George, a homeless person in Bristol, who explained that recycling bins are used because they provide warmth, privacy and security. The appeal of sleeping in recycling bins is partly due to shops recycling more dry materials (cardboard and plastic) that make the bins a dry, sheltered and relatively warm place to sleep. George also said that staying out of view in a bin means police won’t move the person on, and they can avoid abuse from passers by.

Drivers are now instructed to check large bins used by commercial clients before they are collected. The bins come fitted with locks, and clients are told to ensure they are locked at night, but a driver interviewed for the programme said that around half of the bins are left open.

Standring told the programme: “I think there’s a combination of factors. Certainly we are putting more effort into our [drivers], making sure they report every person found in or around our waste containers but undoubtedly the number of people homeless and needing to sleep rough are increasing as well.

“Every bin we supply to our customers is lockable. Not all of the bins are locked. Everybody has a responsibility. It’s a UK-wide problem for everybody who produces waste.”

Rise in homelessness

Biffa also believes that the higher figures are a result of a rise in homelessness. Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in February suggest England has seen an increase in homelessness of 30 per cent in the last year, with 3,569 rough sleepers every night. The number of people sleeping rough in Bristol in particular has more than doubled in the past year.

Biffa has been working closely with the charity Homeless Link to promote its StreetLink service, which enables the public to alert local authorities in England and Wales about people sleeping rough in their area.

Alongside StreetLink and industry bodies including the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Biffa says it wants to encourage a collective responsibility amongst the waste industry, the UK business community and relevant charities to promote vigilance and increased transparent reporting of people sleeping in bins.

In 2014, following the death of Symonds, Biffa helped launch a report into the common problem of rough sleepers finding shelter in bins in a bid to ‘enable homeless charities to better communicate with rough sleepers about the dangers of sheltering in bins, whilst helping raise awareness of the issue amongst waste management crews and the public at large’.  

The ‘Research into the issues, risks and prevention of people sleeping in waste containers’ found that of the 176 organisations responsible for waste management (including companies and local authorities) surveyed, 28 respondents had reported finding people sheltering in bins. However, only 24 per cent of all respondents had a policy in place for tackling the issue of people sleeping in bins or waste containers (with 66 per cent saying they did not have such a policy in place, and 11 per cent not knowing).

Nearly 40 per cent of the time, the report added, anyone found sheltering in a bin was not discovered until the loading operation had begun, while 16 per cent of the time, the person was only found once actually tipped out of the bin. In one case, there was a fatality following the person being tipped out of the bin.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme featuring the segment on rough sleeping in bins can be viewed by UK residents on the BBC iPlayer until 30 March.