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The Birmingham bin collection crisis – how can we keep pace with our society’s growing demands?

The Birmingham bin collection crisis – how can we keep pace with our society’s growing demands?


Redundancies, council leader walk-outs, and rats filmed gorging on rubbish: just some of the things most commonly associated with the recent bin collection crisis in Birmingham. The crisis cast a dark shadow of unfavourable publicity over Birmingham City Council, but is there perhaps more to the story than first meets the eye and are there things we can learn from the local authority on the back of the situation?

Due to government funding cuts, Birmingham City Council said that spending on waste management had reduced from £71m in 2011 to £65m in 2017, and as a result if it did not take action, that the overspend would amount to £5.2m in future years. In addition, it was announced that the authority was not meeting national productivity levels and needed to drastically improve. Failing to improve productivity and efficiency was "not an option", the authority said.

As a result, on 31 August the council announced that it was issuing redundancy notices to certain grade three workers ‘in order to protect its legal and financial position’ and consequently refuse collection workers began staging stoppages across shifts in June. From that point onwards, the rubbish began piling up all over Birmingham and the rats arrived in droves.

Collection of full black bin bags by side of road

As pressure from workers, union leaders, central government, and the public mounted, Birmingham city council leader John Clancy stepped down after failing to resolve the city’s ‘bin war’, blaming ‘ill-informed’ and ‘frenzied’ media speculation for his departure. Proving a complex and stressful issue to solve,adding to the problem, the interim council chief executive, Stella Manzie quickly followed suit and also resigned.

Union Unite had warned the strike could run into the new year, however crews finally returned to work and weekly and fortnightly collections resumed on Monday 9th October. Some press outlets commented that a lack of productivity by the Birmingham authority refuse collection service was to blame for the funding cuts and resulting strike action. If this was the case, could the strikes have been avoided?

Workers wearing Hi-Vis

On first thought, one might assume that the council has been guilty of adopting the mentality that throwing more workers at a job would provide the answer to their problems, however this may not actually be the case.

It is a common misconception that employing more staff automatically means you’ll get more work done in a quicker timeframe, but often this doesn’t offer the desired results and can instead lead to serious affordability issues. UK local authorities are therefore now placing greater focus than ever on smarter working and evidence shows that Birmingham City Council has in fact taken many proactive steps to promote more productive working. Could it be that advances in productivity simply couldn’t keep pace with the growing refuse demands of the Birmingham region? If that was indeed the case, are we in danger of seeing this issue replicate across other regions throughout the UK?

To ensure maximum productivity, employers need to continually ask themselves what element of the job is the most time-consuming and then consider what can be done to speed this up. If, like Birmingham City Council a company invests in mechanical handling equipment to assist with roadside bin collections, it might only be able to shave off a few seconds from every bin collection, but a few seconds saved on every bin throughout the region equates to a major boost in productivity and very quickly it is possible to get much more done in a quicker timeframe - all with the same number of people.

The vast majority of local authorities now have mechanical handling equipment to assist their teams with their collection duties - could a continued and more in-depth focus on investment in innovative technology be the key to UK local authorities’ future success when it comes to productive and cost-effective refuse collections?

Bin loaders across the UK earn around £17,000 per year and this figure increases for leading hands and drivers. Most people would agree that investment in the right staff is key to any business, but what if more time and money was invested in ensuring staff were equipped with the right tools to help them work more efficiently - could this fast track the successful transformation of the UK’s refuse collection service?

Penny Hydraulics Ltd design, manufacture and install a range of hydraulic loading platforms for commercial vehicles, buildings, and loading bays, which are specifically designed for refuse collection purposes. Lifts are available to accommodate all types of commercial bin, including; classic wheelie bins, universal wheelie bins, 65 litre food bins, 660 Litre wheelie bins, 1100 Litre wheelie bins, recycling bins, open top bins, sanitary bins, and swing bins.

Hydraulic Loading Platform

The commercial vehicle bin lift range offers bin lifting options suitable for both van and flatbed vehicles. Designed for 3.5 to 17 tonne vehicles, SideLift 250 enables bins to be lowered off the vehicle directly onto the kerbside, significantly reducing the space required to park and also enabling a more even distribution of loads, minimising the risk of axle overload on the vehicle. The hydraulic lift comes with a standard platform length of 930mm and width of 980mm. This unique lift is installed on the side of the vehicle and is ideal for lifting bins on and off refuse collection trucks that have a bed height of up to 870mm.

The Penny Hydraulics LoadLift is a further unique product in the market place. It is so common to see tail lifts on pickups, but to see a hydraulically powered lift on a van is extremely rare. The LoadLift LL250 offers a maximum working load of 250kg and the LL500 offers a working capacity of 500kg. The lightweight and compact lifting platforms are able to load bins quickly and efficiently in and out of vans via the rear or side cargo doors. 

Outside buildings and typically installed in loading bays, Penny Hydraulics Bay Lift is ideal for lifting and handling bins between different levels where the height difference is less than two metres – typically in loading bays and docks.

Hydraulic Bay Lift with Rubbish Bin being lifted

The relatively low lifting height and no need for a lift pit means that the Bay Lift offers a practical load handling solution where alternative equipment such as conventional scissor or platform lifts cannot easily be installed. Separate versions are available with capacities from 500 to 1500kg and with a range of platform sizes that ensure the Bay Lift can safely handle many different types of commercial bin.

A further option for outdoor installation (also available for installation indoors) is the MezzLift, a specialist goods lift for mezzanine floors. Mezzanine floor lifts are vertical platform lifts up to 1000kg capacity that enable users to move bins safely and efficiently between two or more floors and suit numerous requirements and applications within buildings, such as warehouses, stores, factories and workshops.

MezzLift Goods Lift

All lifts are manufactured in the UK at the company’s purpose-built facility in Derbyshire - this has many benefits; short lead times; high quality standards, and the ability to design and manufacture bespoke items. Priding themselves on their agile manufacturing capabilities, Penny Hydraulics are able to meet the demands of a fast-moving marketplace. Placing an extremely strong focus on rapid response to customers, the company turn speed and agility into a key competitive advantage – they’re perfectly placed to help customers take advantage of short windows of opportunity and to cope with fast changes in customer demand.

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