Edinburgh Council’s bins service ‘relied on workers’ goodwill’ to work festive period

Many refuse collectors worked over their holidays during the festive period. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Many refuse collectors worked over their holidays during the festive period. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The Capital’s under-pressure bin service relied on the goodwill of workers in agreeing to work on public holidays over the festive period – with a review ordered into the operation over Christmas.

Edinburgh City Council’s refuse services did not operate on either Christmas Day or New Year’s Day – but asked staff to volunteer to work on Boxing Day and January 2. Over the two public holidays, 77 per cent of staff turned up for their 
shift.

But officials will investigate what went wrong over the festive period which led to missed collection complaints increasing to 2,520 in a week. Last week, complaints dropped to 883.

Green Cllr Gavin Corbett tabled a motion at full council, calling for lessons to be learned ahead of the next festive period.

He said: “I am pleased the council unanimously supported my proposal to review the festive period bin collections. This year was difficult, especially in the west of the city, with residents fed up with overflowing bins.

“Even now, in mid-February, the impact is still being felt, with stray Christmas trees littering some streets. So the number one priority has to be getting the service in much better shape for next year. I want to see the evidence on the level of waste produced and the staff capacity needed to deal with it.”

He added: “After all, it’s a time of year when many of us get ill with this or that lurgy and bin staff are no different. It is a time of year when many of us travel to or welcome family to our homes; again bin staff are no different. And yet, it is also a time of year when waste from packaging, food and glass increases dramatically.

“So part of the answer lies in ensuring capacity is there, but part of it is also reducing all that waste in the first place.”

At the council’s Russell Road depot, 81 of the 111 staff required to run normal services turned up to work on Boxing Day and 87 did so on January 2. It was a similar picture at the Seafield depot where 57 of the 72 staff required turned up on Boxing Day and 56 on January 2.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “I was happy to approve Cllr Corbett’s motion. It backs up the commitment I’ve already made to make sure we get a grip on what led to the surge in waste complaints after the festive season and to develop improved plans for next Christmas, as well as learning how things could have been done better when we introduced new collection arrangements back in October.

“The waste team are already making progress on the actions I tasked them with and I’m pleased to see that complaints are back to normal levels.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang added: “The issues that we have seen in waste collection that we did see over the festive period, would have been bad enough on their own. The simple reality was that they compounded problems that already existed when the new collection system came into force in October.”