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Fife bin strike threat over claims recycling is being sent to landfill

Fife binmen strike
Binmen are threating industrial action.

Fife’s binmen are threatening strike action amid claims they’ve been told to throw recycling into landfill.

Unions have planned a mass protest next month following instructions to mix clean cardboard, paper and plastics with general waste destined for landfill sites.

Fife binmen strike
There is a landfill site at Ladybank.

And if the practice continues, the next stage will be to ballot members on possible industrial action.

The strike would involve recycling centre staff and drivers across Fife rather than household bin collections.

However, it could affect kerbside collections if unions instruct binmen not to cross picket lines at waste transfer stations.

Unite the Union convener John Gillespie said it had been happening for 18 months and workers had had enough.

John Gillespie during a previous protest.

“We’re in dispute with management. Our members are up in arms.

“Fife Council has declared a climate emergency and tells people to recycle as much as possible.

“But people don’t know what’s happening behind their backs.

“Our members have a conscience and don’t want to do it but they’re under a lot of pressure.”

Fife’s recycling centres are run on behalf of the council by arms-length company Cireco, previously known as Fife Resource Solutions.

It says it is committed to recycling and only mixes loads if the public puts non-recyclable materials into recycling points.

However, this has been rubbished by outraged binmen.

‘The people of Fife are doing their bit’

According to unions, the argument centres on paper and plastics deposited at some of the region’s smaller recycling centres and recycling points.

One staff member said: “We’re getting told to mix recycling with waste and dump it in landfill.

“The management team are saying it’s all right because it’s small loads. No, it’s not.

“The people of Fife are doing their bit and doing it in the right way.

Recycling points are filling up as people do their bit.

“They’re cleaning their cardboard and their plastics and putting it in recycling bins but they don’t know this is happening.”

He said the instruction has included some materials left at centres in Dalgety Bay, Dunfermline and the East Neuk.

But it doesn’t involve grey and green household recycling bins collected from kerbsides.

The worker added: “They’ve put in more bins at recycling points instead of increasing the number of pick-ups we do.

“But they’re saying it’s all taking too long so just to collect it all at the same time.

“It’s been going on for about 18 months.”

Another binman said refuse from paying business customers was also affected.

“Recycling is going into the same truck as landfill to save the council money,” he said.

“They’re sending only one truck to do the job of two but the customer is unaware of it.

“They’re trying to say it’s the public’s fault but this is untrue.”

Serious questions to answer

Fife MSPs Alex Rowley and Willie Rennie said refuse staff had been under huge pressure during the pandemic.

Both now plan to raise the allegations with management.

Mr Rowley said he stands “four square behind the staff”.

“Over the last 18 months our refuse collectors have been on the front line and without them communities would have been in serious difficulty,” said the Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSP.

Alex Rowley MSP at the Lathalmond site.

“We really owe them a massive debt of gratitude.

“When everybody else was locking down, these guys were out there working and deserve the greatest respect for having done so.”

He added: “If it’s right what they’re saying about recycling being dumped, there are serious questions to answer by managers at Fife Council.”

Meanwhile, Mr Rennie called for a practical way forward.

Willie Rennie.

“Fife’s waste collection has been under incredible stress for months now,” he said.

“Staff shortages, recycling centre booking systems, vehicle breakdowns and fly tipping means that staff are under extraordinary pressure.”

The North East Fife Liberal Democrat MSP added: “I am meeting operators Cireco and will be raising this.

“The last thing we need is a strike so I hope that a practical way forward can be found between management and unions.”

Cireco ‘committed to working with trade unions’

Cireco chief executive Robin Baird said the company was short of “multiple” drivers but still clear on its commitment to recycling.

“Where we can, we will always recycle materials that are collected at the recycling points,” he said.

“Unfortunately, occasionally we see instances of people putting non-recyclable materials into the recycling points.

“When this happens, we have no option but to landfill this waste as the recyclable materials are contaminated.”

Mr Baird said Cireco had not been formally told about possible industrial action.

He added, however: “We’re fully committed to working with out trade union colleagues to ensure any concerns raised by their members are dealt with as a matter of urgency.

“We hope this continued dialogue will ensure we continue to work through any concerns raised.

“We would like to go on record to thank our staff who, over the last 16 months, have continued to deliver high quality services to the communities of Fife in extremely challenging circumstances.”