Work for refuse truck driver Thomas Cummins has never been busier, with rubbish levels “worse than at the Christmas peak” and illegal dumping rife.

Wasted food, left over from fevered panic buying, is adding to the extra weight of almost everyone being at home almost all of the time.

“We usually collect 13 tonnes in a truck but now we’re pushing 20, that’s seven tonnes more every day,” says Thomas.

“Customers are leaving extra bags out because it won’t all fit in their bin.

“This is worse than Christmas. There is so much food being thrown out from people panic buying.”

Illegal dumping has “increased tenfold”, he says, and the problem is so acute around some flat complexes that caretakers rush to cram rubbish back into the bins as soon as Mr Cummins and his team empty them.

“Instead of paying for refuse, some people just dump it around the corner,” says Thomas.

“But we can’t freeze our bills because we still have to pay the incinerator.”

The heavy coronavirus workload has been made easier to bear by how well his employer, Greyhound, one of the largest refuse companies in Dublin, has worked to protect staff.

“Greyhound has gone above and beyond for its staff,” says Thomas. “I’m a Siptu rep and I couldn’t say a bad word about how our company has treated us through this.

“They’re supplying all the PPE, they sanitise and deep-clean the trucks straight after each use.

“At work, we wear rubber gloves, face masks, specialist glasses that wrap around the side of our face.

“All companies should be looking after staff like that.

“But the waste industry is a dirty industry in more ways than one. It has a reputation for treating staff badly. I’ve heard of contract workers at other companies too scared to ask for the right PPE in case they’re not hired again and we see other binmen driving past without the right PPE. People are stuck for work and refuse is an essential service so they feel they have to get on with whatever they can get.”

Greyhound Bin Truck being disinfected during covid-19 coronavirus pandemic

The dangers of contracting the virus at work are very real because the virus can live on surfaces for days.

“We serve 20,000 people every week,” says Thomas. “If 1% of the population has coronavirus, then that’s 200 people whose rubbish we’re collecting, possibly putting our hands on that virus.

“I stay in the truck because I’m the driver but the lads have to go up to everyone’s door and touch their bins. They spray their hands with sanitiser before getting back in the truck.

“Greyhound has been sending us studies, showing how long the virus can last on surfaces — say a pizza box on top of a bin — so we know what to be extra careful of.

“I’m delighted that the company is protecting us, that I don’t have to put myself in even more danger.”

He said that his company’s Facebook page has advice on how to safely handle bins and on the importance of disinfecting the handle before putting it out and when you bring it in.

“We’re touching 2,000 bins with our gloves,” he says. “We all should remember that bins are dangerous and should be cleaned for the safety of everyone.”

Thomas has to be particularly vigilant as his partner is in an at-risk category, but said his colleagues are careful to strictly comply with the safety protocols to protect them all.

“It’s a worry but the lads at work are doing everything they can to prevent us catching it,” he says. “I have to pay the bills so you just have to put yourself out there.”

Greyhound Bin Men wearing ppe

He said the stigma attached to being a binman is lessening and this emergency has made him feel particularly proud to go to work every day.

“Years ago, there was this stigma around being a binman,” he says. “No one ever wanted to be a binman when they grew up.

“I could be a bit of a messer in school and the teacher would say: ‘You’ll be a binman when you grow up!’

“But there’s no shame in being a binman. We’re an essential service. If we don’t pick up the waste, there’ll be a pandemic of rats.

“I have pride in going out to work. I’m still in a job with a decent company.

“A lot of people come up now and say: ‘Fair play to you, thank you, you’re doing a great job.’ A thank you note was left on one of the lad’s bins the other day.

“It’s nice to be appreciated but the heroes in my mind are the doctors and nurses in hospital making people better. And the cleaners and care assistants there. They’re really on the frontline and they deserve to be protected.”


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