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Why gangs are targeting tips and threatening waste workers in Greater Manchester

Rubbish removal gangs who try to dump their trade waste at household waste recycling centres are the main cause of trouble, say staff.

Violence, threats and verbal abuse – that is the day-to-day reality for tip workers who handle our waste and recycling across Greater Manchester.

Rubbish removal gangs who try to dump their trade waste at household waste recycling centres are the main cause of trouble at the tips, according to staff.

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The source of tension is that trade waste is not supposed to be dumped for free at taxpayer-funded tips which are provided for household rubbish only.

But sometimes people snap just for being told which skip they need to use.

Now, a new system which requires vans to register for permits and limits the number of tip visits to 18 times a year has been rolled out – and it’s working.

March Household Recycling Centre. The future of the centre will be discussed by councillors this week

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

But staff say before these measures were brought in, their work environment was a very different place with many people choosing to leave the profession.

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

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

And one staff member at Spring Vale Recycling Centre in Middleton was even followed home by a man who was banned from the site for tipping trade waste.

However, before the barriers were installed, offenders would come to the tips knowing that they could not be forcibly removed until the police turned up by which point they would have tipped their trade waste unlawfully and left.

‘I know where you live’

Speaking anonymously to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the staff member said he felt particularly threatened because he has young children.

“He’d say, ‘I know where you live, mate’ and things like that,” the worker said.

“You just kind of brush it off, but at the end of the day he did know where I live.”

Rubbish removal gangs have been known to cause damage and disruption at tips by ‘smashing up’ cars and throwing nails on the ground to puncture tyres.

Sometimes fights have broken out simply because a staff member tells someone that they have thrown their waste away in the wrong container.

Bodycam worn by tip worker in Greater Manchester. Credit: Suez.

But the ‘usual stuff’ involves people being ‘in your face’ and ‘aggressive’.

“You could just be asking them to put cardboard in the right skip and it’s like you’ve stood over their mother’s grave or something,” the staff member said.

“As soon as there’s an obstacle in the way, even the general public will kick off.

“It’s a bizarre environment to be in when you think you’re just providing a service for people to throw their waste.”

‘It’s worse than being a bouncer’

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

Staff say the barriers and bodycams introduced in 2020 have helped – and the new van permit scheme rolled out late last year has made a difference too.

Under the scheme, vans dumping household waste now require a permit to get past the barriers and can only use the city-region’s tips 18 times a year.

And the results speak for themselves with total van visits to tips cut by more than two thirds from December and February compared to the year before.

But now, the battle for staff is to stop people tipping trade waste covertly.

Some have gone to great lengths to convert vehicles which do not require van permits such as wheelchair accessible cars adapted to carry trade waste, and some campervans have been converted too to maximise the space on board.

A disability adapted vehicle converted to dump trade waste. Credit: Suez

However, the staff say you get a knack for identifying these ‘jobbers’.

“As soon as they come in, you’re looking straight at them in the window and you think, well here’s 62-year-old Jim and Moira – they’ll be okay,” one said.

“And then if you see a car full of lads with hoods up, it makes you think twice and then you have a proper look at what they’ve got.

“You go into a bit more depth and you make your own judgement.”

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

Speaking at a Waste and Recycling Committee meeting in March, head of commercial services Paul Morgan told councillors that it is hard to identify how much money the scheme saves, but it’s safe to say it will contribute to savings.

The concern about the new van permit scheme is an increase in flytipping – but councils have not reported a significant change since the start of the year.

A trade waste sign at a tip in Greater Manchester. Credit: Suez

Staff say some people dump their waste outside the tips when they cannot enter – but they believe the permit scheme is helping tackle trade waste.

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

“They’d be coming 10 times a day and they don’t come in whatsoever now, so it’s definitely worked.

“They’ve been upping the prices for the general public and then they’ve been taking it to proper places and paying for the waste,” he added.

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