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Sam McCarthy waste collector
Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you collect London’s rubbish

James FitzGerald

…according to Sam McCarthy.

People get very passionate about their rubbish

‘Some people see throwing stuff away as a bit of a challenge. A guy here in Southwark once proudly showed me a bin with an entire double bed chopped up inside it. But weirder than that was a lady whose recycling bin was empty every time, but she’d still insist that we “empty” it. Apparently she got a thrill from watching her bin go up on the lorry’s tipper. Don’t ask me what that’s all about.

Bus drivers have beef with bin lorries

We’re rivals because we’re always getting in each other’s way. Secretly, though, they’re in awe of our moves: we have to reverse down tight alleyways, which they don’t. I’ll admit I backed up into a lorry and smashed its windscreen on my second day in the job. But after fifteen years, I’m now one of the best drivers in Southwark. Even the bus drivers give me compliments on my reversing.

Some dustmen have doctorates

‘In the past I’ve turned down nine-to-five management roles at my company, Veolia, because I love my job. I get to watch the sun rise every day, and I stay in great shape because I walk about 15,000 steps during each shift. It annoys me when people assume you’re dim or can’t get a better job. Actually, there are people with PhDs who’ve chosen to do this work.’

Londoners are really bad at recycling

‘Our statistics are so far behind the rest of the country. People have good intentions, but aren’t always well informed about what they can and can’t recycle. It doesn’t help that rules differ across boroughs, and there can be language barriers too, but it’s sad for us when a lovely big batch of recycling is tainted by some rogue polystyrene.’

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