Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dealing with the Dodgy Dumpers

There was an item in the Mail on Sunday last week that prompted today's post.

Some of the consortia that operate Britain’s rubbish dumps (aka recycling centres) are planning to install spy cameras. These are intended to catch those who misuse the sites in one way or another.

In fact, this blogger has first hand experience of the problem. It’s the result of responding to an ad in my local Home Counties newspaper some 5 years ago. I had taken early retirement, but had some time to kill before my occupational pensions began. The job was initially described as “Weighbridge Operator” at the local dump, and later the title became one of “Trade Waste Officer”, at least on the lapel badge. But as is so often the case where the laissez-faire UK employment scene is concerned, the real job, the one they said little about in the initial interview, was something entirely different, and altogether less cushy. It might be described as Site Vigilance Officer.

The official job was a doddle. I had a cosy steel blue cabin, next to the site entrance. Trade vehicles that were too high to get under the barrier would drive on to the weighbridge, be weighed before and after depositing their rubbish, and then be charged on the difference, according to a sliding scale. But on a typical day there would rarely be more than a dozen or so.

The hassle factor came from two other types of visitor:

1. Private householders, arriving in their 4x4s, or in hired Transit vans etc that were too high to get under the barrier.

2. Trade vans etc that were small enough to able to get under the barrier, but were trying to dump stuff that was not self-evidently waste from a private household (accepted without charge). Instead, it was trade waste, not necessarily objectionable, but from running a private business eg plumbing, landscape gardeners etc. Trade waste was not covered by household or business rates. It had to be weighed and paid for.

The first category caused no end of ill-will. Even if clearly non-trade, I was not allowed under any circumstances to raise the barrier.

Instead (see picture) the householder had to offload onto a trolley and push that some considerable distance to the appropriate bins. Rarely a week went by without being harangued on the iniquity of the system. I felt considerable sympathy, especially where older folk were concerned, but the (private) firm that operated the concession on trade waste/ recovery of scrap metal etc refused to budge.

But that was as nothing compared with the problem of the fly-by-night characters who tried tipping what was regarded as trade waste, and therefore chargeable. But try telling that to an estate agent, who brings a van, or even a private car, stuffed to the gunwhales with last season’s brochures. Or the small jobbing gardener with grass-cuttings or rotten fence posts. But the real problem were those persistent offenders with the sinks, toilets, engine oil, asbestos etc etc who would swear blind that it was their own DIY, or they were doing it on behalf of their dear old aunt.

There was an official procedure, which involved, as a last resort, getting them to sign a bit of paper, declaring it was their own waste, and warning that their premises were liable to spot inspection. But few were concerned when I pulled out the pad, knowing the risk of being visited or prosecuted was virtually nil. A different disincentive was needed to reduce abuse, that involved me using the little authority/leverage I had to best effect, but how ?

At home, I had a near-obsolete mid 80s Amstrad 1512 PC. It ran off 5.25 inch floppy disks, of which I had just two – the graphical user interface (icon) Gem operating system, which Microsoft Windows allegedly cloned, to put it politely, and a word-processing program. There was no spreadsheet or database software whatsoever.

But many hours spent with the fat, user-unfriendly book of words showed that there was a crude Mark 1 text editor on the operating system called Edlin.

Edlin allowed one to make lists, and to search those lists, similar to the software that we now take for granted on a mobile phone.

A week later, the guys on the site said I was looking grey and ill, but I had my database up and running. Whenever a visitor to the site seemed suspicious, I would enter his vehicle registration number into the computer along with a few details.

Then, whenever a vehicle approached the site that looked dodgy, the number would be quickly punched in, and any previous doubts/misgivings/suspicions would instantly pop up on screen.

(Everyone listed on the screen above was 100% legit' by the way. But you probably can't read the entries anyway. For some unknown reason, photos can no longer be enlarged by clicking, possibly because I have used up most of my quota on Blogger's server ).

And what a difference it would make if I could then saunter round casually to where the driver was unloading, and say “Back again, I see”. And when they affected that puzzled innocent look, that would be my cue to say “ Last Tuesday, if I’m not mistaken. Those old radiators. Oh yes, and the boiler from the week before”.

And if, as so often happened, there was another boiler being dropped, I would put it to the guy that he was “trade”, and ought to put everything back in the van, and come round to the weighbridge. If looks could kill, I’d be dead several times over by now, but I managed in 9 months to avoid physical confrontation (though there were several attempts at verbal wind-ups and it was a close run thing at times).

On another occasion, I’ll post here about the several months spent at B&Q, where again it was a case of being recruited on a false prospectus (”Customer Advisor”). No sense in mincing one’s words. That title was a cruel deception. Yet B&Q is usually held up a a role model for the rest of UK plc to emulate in being willing to take on older folk.

There were two events that made me hand in my resignation at the recycling centre sooner than I had intended: 1. a stream of vaguely threatening abuse from a particular white-van man, who might fairly be described as a low-life scumbag, coupled with the failure of my boss at A’ Secondary Metals to think constructively.

2. Having Mr. Big from the Council appear on site with his retinue, saying hello, and then immediately telling me out of the blue that I would soon get used to working on Saturdays. Up to that point, there had been a concession, allowing anyone to drive a van on to the site on Saturday, when the bar was raised all day. The Saturday option had helped to defuse many a situation with irate householders, especially the 4x4 drivers, but now, in one fell swoop, Mr Big was withdrawing that option, and assuming I would cheerfully do weekend work without proper consultation.

If Britain is to make use of its pool of workers who have reached a youngish NRD (eg 60, as in civil service jobs) or maybe taken early retirement, on health grounds, or to escape the rat race, then there needs to be a radical rethink in the way that older workers, many with management or supervisory experience, are treated and addressed.

One does not expect deference, or kid glove treatment, merely recognition that one is in transition between two entirely different lifestyles, and has opted for a solution intended to make that transition as natural and painless as possible. One does not expect to be treated as the shopfloor junior.


Sarah said...

Oh, that Amstrad looks familiar! We had one as our first computer back in the early 90s and the only software we could get to work was Nathalie Plus, a word processor of such user-unfriendliness it took hours and hours to produce the least document!

angela said...

I'm surprised they didn't have cctv like everyone else in the UK. I reckon you were pretty brave: everyone knows white van man can be savage when provoked!

Louise said...

Like your layout on the right hand side of blog, Colin. I might try something like that one day. Just one question - who is the blonde Shakira? Hippo's girlfriend? Looks like the kind of girl that makes my son go red in the face!

ColinB said...

Yeah, she beats a recycling centre anyday Louise. She's to be the subject of tomorrow's post.
I've just added a YouTube sound link under her picture in the margin. What a voice ! Best thing since Alison Moyet.