ONCE you’ve thrown something away, do you give much thought to what happens to it next?
The Gazette asked Ubico, Stroud district’s refuse service provider, if we could join one of its crews and see what happens to the waste we leave out every week.
They were kind enough to oblige and I met up with Jamie Warren, Paul Cook and Andrew Davies at Ubico’s Gossington depot, near Berkeley, before heading off to collect food waste in Coaley.
Ubico now collects household waste and recycling from over 53,000 households across the Stroud district.
They must be doing something right because recent government figures show that Stroud district is the highest performing council for recycling in the south west and has experienced the largest increase in ‘household waste’ recycling rates.
And, of all local councils in England, the district’s residents disposed of the least amount of residual waste to landfill/incineration – an average of 258.6kg per household per year in 2016/17.
Before heading out on the round, Paul Cook showed me the daily step count on his phone, which showed he walks an average of 10 miles a day on the job.
Paul made the headlines recently when he came to the aid of an injured pensioner.
The 86-year-old had fallen outside his home, and had a bleeding head wound.
Paul waited with him for 45 minutes, helping to stem the flow of blood, until an ambulance arrived.
Gazette readers may also recognise Jamie Warren. Jamie is a knowledgeable nature lover, and we often share his Gloucestershire Camera Club photos.
Throughout the morning he pointed out interesting plants that had just come into flower.
He has made friends with many animals on the round, local dogs, donkeys and more, and recently managed to get a pheasant that he named ‘Steve’ to eat out of his hand.
The teams’ driver Andrew Davies came to the round after years of working on the trucks, fixing the tyres.
He says he now prefers getting out and about doing the collections.
I joined the team as they passed through Coaley. From the moment I arrived it was non-stop.
Jamie moved quickly from one food waste caddy to the next, emptying them into the back of the truck.
At the same time, Paul went ahead down some of the narrower streets where the truck couldn’t go.
He collected up all the street’s waste into one container and left it at the end for the truck to pick up as it passed.
The job was hard. I found it difficult to keep up and I wasn’t doing any of the lifting.
But still, it was a bright and beautiful morning to be out, and the job wasn’t as smelly as I’d imagined.
“The smell gets much worse in the summer though, when the food waste is much warmer,” Jamie told me.
I was surprised by the attitude of some of the drivers who became very agitated after being momentarily held up by the truck.
Andrew said: “This is our biggest problem to tell you the truth, people being impatient.”
To get around this, the Ubico team plan their collection routes so as to cause residents as little disruption as possible.
Sometimes they do their rounds really early, to avoid holding up commuter and school run traffic on busy roads at peak times.
And sometimes, in especially narrow lanes, they arrange for a smaller van to pick up the rubbish and then meet up with the main truck in a wider place, and decant it there.
Skilful drivers with good local knowledge of the area are vital to the service.
“You have to be able to manoeuvre in tiny spaces, without scraping cars, walls, or the lorry itself,” said Andrew.
“There’s some really tight country lanes in the Stroud District, where a couple of inches make all the difference.”
I only joined the crew for a couple of hours, but have learned that there is a lot more to refuse collection than simply tipping waste into a large vehicle.
There’s a huge amount of logistics involved and problems to solve. There’s regulations, to ensure staff safety, to adhere to.
Working on the trucks is hard physically, you’ve got to have a high level of fitness to do it.
But there’s a great sense of fun and camaraderie among the crew too.
I was really impressed with what I saw and think we’re really lucky to have such a dedicated team, working hard behind the scenes, taking care of our waste for us.