Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham


Qualifications for the refuse and recycling crews

Lewisham’s Refuse and Recycling staff recently trained in waste management qualifying them to a National Vocation Qualification Level 2.

Although some other local authorities have had some of their staff pass to this level, Colin Meyer, the Environment Waste Manager, believes Lewisham is the only council in the South East of England to have their entire department (approximately 150 Drivers and Loaders) to formalise their competence and knowledge and be qualified to this level with the  Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board (WAMITAB).

To achieve this qualification the staff needed to complete and pass 10 units of the course both by on-the-job assessments and in addition compile a ‘portfolio of evidence’ to demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and competence to meet the standard set in the qualification.

This is a great achievement and we asked a handful of the crew their thoughts about it.


Alan, a Refuse Lorry Driver of 12 years said “I’ve done lots of courses before but I felt that this course was very encouraging and positive especially for any of the newer people on the job…”


Sid, also a Driver agreed saying “It makes you see that your own way of working might be different to others in the crew, so the course reminds you to work more strongly as a team and helps you to understand your team better…”


“The course pulled people together and gave you even more confidence in your team”, Julian, another driver chipped in.


David a Loader, said “When I went home with my folder (the ‘portfolio of evidence’) my parents asked me what it was all about, and I felt really proud to tell them that I’d gotten a  qualification. My parents were really proud and gave me a gift to congratulate me… it felt pretty  good… It makes what you’re doing worthwhile. It opens your mind to a different perspective and how you view working in refuse and recycling.”


Jack, whose been a Loader with Lewisham for about 2 years through an agency gave an interesting insight about the course saying “You learn more about yourself too. I haven’t done any training since I left school and when I took on this job I thought it’d be a lot easier than what it was. I know that many people think it’s an easy job, but you have to learn. But now, with the experience that I’ve had over the 2 years, I find it’s easy and I feel even more proud of what I do because I’ve now done this course. I feel that the qualification does give you more opportunity…Maybe I’ll go for Colin’s job next!”

 To this, Environment Waste Manager Colin responded “Years ago I started doing an agency job and worked up to being a manager over time. So anything is possible, if you want something enough and you work at it, you can achieve it.”

 A lot of people here surprised themselves at how well they could do this course. Some people didn’t think that they were very academic or had the know how to get through the course, but every single person did, so they shouldn’t think of themselves as “just a dustman”, because now they are a highly qualified dustman, not just with experience behind them but also with great potential to achieve more – that’s proven in each and every certificate that was awarded…  They should be proud of it, I’m certainly proud of them.”

One of the happy refuse crews who recently qualified.

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What’s it like to be a member of a recycling bin crew?

When most of us are still tucked up in our cosy beds and not even contemplating getting up, the recycling crew for Lewisham are up and about getting ready for work, some as early as the disagreeable time of 4am.

Clocking on at 6, the trucks are checked over, crews are kitted up with safety gear and the ten teams of recycling crews set off to all parts of the borough by 7. I don’t know about you, but I’ve only just got out of bed by then!

Getting up early for work is one thing, but what does it really take to be a member of that crew? I met up with them to find out what their job involves on an every day basis….

Over the course of a week their rounds take them all over the borough collecting recycling from well over a thousand households every day. That’s a lot of bins to attend to! I wanted to find out just how they did that?

So, first up you’ve got the driver whose job it is to plot a course through the narrow streets, keep a look out and maintain a steady pace with the crew as well as keep an eye on pedestrians, cyclists and the traffic who are all the time anxious to whizz around them.  

Then, on rotation, the other four guys are split in two, one pair running ahead of the truck pulling out the recycling bins and grouping them together so that the two guys at the back of the truck can easily grab the bins for loading.

“It’s all about the team work.”

Not only are they running up and down our streets pulling out and loading bins while I’m still getting breakfast, they also do a quick visual check for anything that shouldn’t be in the recycling bins (or “contaminants” as they say in the trade). As the load is tipped in and before it gets compacted, the driver also inspects for contaminates that may have been hidden via a surveillance camera that he views within the cab.   

 “We work pretty tightly as a team. We all look out for each other and try and help each other out” Oscar, the driver comments.

 “We’re like family really. And not just in our own crew but also when other crews need a hand we join them and help out with whatever they need. It’s a good group and we all try and help each other out” says Jerome, pitching in. 

So with all this running and moving bins about I figured they must be pretty fit. All of them agreed with enthusiasm, so I got them to tell me what it was like on their first day on the job…

“We love working together to get the job done”

“It was BAAAD! I didn’t think I’d make even 3 hours! I was totally stuffed!” Daniel replied shaking his head.

Reflecting back, Andre said “My legs and feet were SO sore – but I didn’t really feel it ‘til the next day, you know, when I tried to get out of bed…But you get used to it… It took me about 2 weeks before I really got used to it. I guess it’s like going to the gym

And now they’re cranking up the fitness as the ability to recycle more items has now expanded. “People are definitely recycling more, because we can feel it in the weight of the bin when were pulling them out and you can see there’s more stuff in the bins too”  they all agreed.

Since the change in service which allows Lewisham’s residents to recycle much more there’s also been a significant drop in contamination – from about 14% down to under 5%. In fact the way Steve puts it, “Most of the time kerbside collections, like up in Blackheath, are clean as a whistle”.

But in some areas contamination is still an issue.

Crews are still finding food waste and other unsightly things in the recycling bins and continuously have to reject recycling bins that contain black sacks. In the UK black sacks have traditionally been used for rubbish not recycling, so crews cannot accept these when found in the recycling bin “We just can’t go around looking in each one to see if it’s recycling or not, apart from the fact that there’s no time to do that, it’s just not safe!” Steve adds.

The crews really highlighted that especially on estate properties there are still many people who don’t seem to respect the recycling crew’s work, in that there’s lots of fly-tipping and contamination issues. Compared to kerbside properties, estates need to improve on recycling practices.

So what did I discover about our recycling crews? If there’s one thing to take from this experience, it’s that these great guys, for all the banter throughout our chat, put in the hard yards and deal with something that most of us either take for granted or doesn’t even come across our radar.

I can’t even imagine what it’d be like if these collections just stopped and we needed to deal with it! So thanks guys and all the other recycling men out there who contribute to such an important activity such as saving our natural resources!