Overflowing bins and a backlog of street cleaning has been partly blamed on Covid-related absences among Dundee City Council staff.
Staff absences in neighbourhood services – the department which empties bins and cleans streets – reached 35% during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Local authority leader John Alexander said councillors “are not blind” to the issue but employees have been unable to keep up with collections.
Piling bags of waste, particularly around communal Eurobins, has been a common complaint from Dundonians.
‘Neighbourhood became a dump’
One West End resident said in June her neighbourhood had become a “dump”, with the waste attracting seagulls, and she was fearful of rats being lured to the overflowing bins.
A report to the council this month said: “In neighbourhood services, staff absence levels were as high as 35% during the height of the Covid pandemic.”
This “affected the ability to provide consistent staffing cover in all areas,” it added.
‘Councillors don’t live in ivory towers’
SNP councillor Mr Alexander said he understands the public’s frustration at seeing piles of rubbish, untidy streets or unkempt grassland.
“I think there’s sometimes a perception that councillors live in ivory towers and don’t see these things,” he said.
“I live in the Lochee ward – I see these things.
“I pay my council tax, I use the same services, I get my bins picked up like everybody else does, and that goes for every other councillor in Dundee as well.
“None of us are blind to the issues that are raised frequently.”
Mr Alexander said the warm summer weather led to more people using public parks and bins.
Combined with staff shortages due to people self-isolating, he said it created a “perfect storm”.
‘Staff can’t empty bins any quicker’
“The sunny weather has brought people out in their droves, so they’re using parks and are out and about much often, filling the bins – and that’s great that people are using those spaces,” he said.
“But, we haven’t had any more staff to empty those bins any quicker than we normally would, which has resulted in some negative feedback. I understand that.
“The other thing to mention is, because of Covid, we’ve had a high number of folk within neighbourhood services who have been self-isolating at any one point in time over the last few weeks.
“Not only have we not had the normal level of service, but we’ve had a reduced level as we’ve been trying to deal with those absences. That has meant there’s a bit of a backlog.
“It sticks in people’s throats. It sticks in my throat when I see litter on the street or overflowing bins, or mattresses next to Eurobins, or whatever it may well be.
“There are a number of people who are responsible for that. Of course, the council has a responsibility to clear up the streets and make the city look as best as it possibly can.”
‘Don’t have respect for their neighbourhood’
He added: “I think there’s also a responsibility on those people who are dumping their rubbish, quite frankly.
“They’re irresponsible and don’t have any respect for their own neighbourhood, their neighbours, or themselves.”
Rubbish, dog waste, graffiti and weeds
The council has invested in its rapid response team, which deals with complaints about litter, dog fouling, graffiti and weeds.
But Mr Alexander acknowledges this has not fixed all problems.
“I think the other thing is the way in which we collect rubbish,” he said.
“The introduction of Eurobins has been a particular challenge.
“I think sometimes there’s also a misunderstanding around the reality of why those were introduced.”
He added: “We’ve got legislation in place that means need to collect our waste differently.
“We need to increase our recycling rates. The only way we can do that is by using different methods, and the Eurobins are one method that we have, to do that.
“I think the biggest challenge for Dundee is, compared to some of the other cities, we probably have a higher level of flats and tenements.
“That comes with its challenges, because ultimately we need people to help us achieve those recycling rates.
“I’ve seen lots of pictures of overflowing bins but it’s quite easy to look at some of those pictures and identify things that could have been recycled, that haven’t been.”
Extra bin collections
Residents will be asked not to place so-called ‘side waste’ for collection in a bid to encourage recycling.
Mr Alexander said: “We need to make sure that we are doing our part as a council, picking up the rubbish, keeping the streets as clean as possible.
“That will be easier now that the isolation rules have changed and the Covid rates have declined, because we can get people back to work.
“Our recycling rate is not what it should be.
“We sit at 42%, now given there’s been a report released to say the climate emergency should be a red warning to us all, I think there’s an important role for everyone to try and increase recycling rates in the city.
“That means 58% of our waste isn’t being recycled and that’s appalling in this day and age, given everything that we know about climate change and the environment.
“But I also understand why people get annoyed if their streets are not looking clean.