Resource Use

New report highlights importance of bin checks

Around two-thirds of organisations responsible for waste management do not have in place a policy to check for people sleeping in bins, a new report released by waste management company Biffa has found.

The ‘Research into the issues, risks and prevention of people sleeping in waste containers’ report was undertaken by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), in partnership with Biffa and StreetLink, a service provider for rough sleepers, to ‘establish the scale of [people rough-sleeping in bins]; where these incidents have been occurring; and in what type of containers people are most commonly found’.

The bodies involved in this research said they hoped it will ‘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’.  

Report findings

The research 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. Further, around 14 per cent of respondents said the had experienced this about once a year, with seven per cent saying they had found someone sheltering in a bin every few months,

However, only 24 per cent of all respondents had said they had in place a policy for tackling the issue of people sleeping in bins/waste containers (with 66 per cent saying they did not have such a policy in place, and 11 per cent not knowing).

Of those organisations that had reported finding people sheltering in a bin, 70 per cent said they had a policy of checking bins for rough sleepers, supported by a variety of awareness-raising methods.

Majority found once loading operation had begun

Perhaps the most worrying finding was that 40 per cent of the time, 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 report also found that over half of the recorded instances of someone sleeping in a bin (58 per cent) involved a homeless person. In 22 per cent of occurrences, however, collection crews were unable to identify whether the person was a rough sleeper, often because the person ran away upon being found.

Other recurring factors included finding a person sheltering in a bin:

  • in an urban area (88 per cent);
  • at dawn, dusk or night (90 per cent);
  • in wet or cold weather conditions (73 per cent);
  • in a 1,100-litre bin (65 per cent) with no lock (50 per cent); and
  • at the rear or side of the premises (73 per cent).

However, the report also found that in nearly 40 per cent of cases, the bin involved did have a working lock fitted.


To help reduce the incidences of people sleeping in bins (and thus reduce the risk of injury), the report suggest that organisations involved in waste management operations undertake the following precautions:

  • instruct crew to check inside bins;
  • include people sleeping in bins in risk assessments;
  • instruct crew to bang on bins;
  • update reporting and recording procedures;
  • provide bins that lock;
  • instruct customers to lock bin;
  • instruct crew to look for signs of homeless sleepers in the area;
  • locate bins in a secure area;
  • provide warning labels on bins and containers;
  • locate bins in a lit area; and
  • alert homeless services if they find someone sleeping rough.

‘We must act now to prevent future deaths’

Speaking of the report, Matt Harrison, Director of StreetLink, commented: “Over 2,300 people sleep on our streets every night. This study shows the lengths to which individuals will go to find shelter, especially in bad weather. Anyone who has to seek shelter in a bin, is one individual too many and we must act now to help prevent future deaths.”

Ian Wakelin, CEO of Biffa, commented that “only through understanding the experiences of the waste collection sector can [the industry] ensure that [it is] raising awareness in the most appropriate ways, and training staff to be vigilant in their checks”.

“Protecting the lives of rough sleepers is absolutely vital and this study will bring us one step closer to that goal”, he added. 

HSE guidance on this issue is already available, but David Beadle, President of CIWM, added that working with homeless charities is ‘vital’ for developing the ‘right guidance’ needed to reduce rough sleeping in bins.

Anyone concerned about someone sleeping rough in England is urged to contact StreetLink on 0300 500 0914.

Read 'Research into the issues, risks and prevention of people sleeping in waste containers'.