There is money to be made in other people’s rubbish – sometimes thousands of it – but even if you can top up your wages by a couple of grand a week, the job can be grim.
The price to pay means dealing with horrific smells day in, day out, getting hand deep in maggots, routinely going home covered in flea bites and getting up close with rats and their droppings.
Getting an eyeful of near naked women, delivering the wife a brand new Jacuzzi that someone had chucked out and catching people having sex in a skip are also part of the job.
Four dustcart and tip workers reveal all:
‘I pulled back the cover and a couple were having sex’
HGV driver Mark Warren, 37, is single and lives in Wembley.
Mark says: “I was a tip driver for six years. The funniest occasion happened when I went to pick up a skip and, as they often do, it had a cover on.
I looked underneath it because I could hear grunting noises. The first thing I saw was the edge of a mattress.
As I pulled the cover back I saw a couple having sex. I was so stunned and embarrassed that I quickly replaced the cover.
They carried on and I had to wait until they’d finished and climbed out of the skip before I could take it away.
The stuff that people get rid of is staggering. One tip had a glass chandelier in it and an antique vase. A guy I was working with reckoned it was worth a few bob because he had seen something similar on The Antiques Roadshow.
You want to cry over some of the stuff that people chuck out – brand new cookers, household items that were barely used.
On one job I found a bag full of money. There must have been five grand in it – I was gutted when I discovered they were fake notes.
The oddest place I’ve had to collect a skip from is a barn in the middle of a field. I had to drive past a large herd of cows to get to it.
You never get used to the smells at the tip. When you arrive at the yard you have to unload and sort everything into the different containers. In the summer it is always worse.
You never get used to the rats either. They are everywhere and jump out at you.
I am convinced that the rats got bigger over the years. One time I came across a rat the size of a cat with a really long tail.
I stopped when I got my HGV license. I wanted to further my career and get away from the smells!”
‘A skipful of dildos spilled out’
Chef John Browne, 38 lives in London.
John says: “I started working at a mate’s dad business when I was 15. It was a private tip that supplied skips and then brought the waste back to us to be sorted.
I’d have to drive the machines that emptied out the skips. We never knew what was being delivered and from where.
One day half a skipful of dildos spilled out off the back of a lorry into the yard. There were hundreds of them. They were covered in all kinds of stuff. Everyone downed tools to have a look and a laugh.
The skips would come off lorries filled with muck, rubbish and then general household waste.
The last category would get put into a big box and the items were sorted out on a conveyor belt.
Everything that could be sold on, was – especially scrap metal. Nothing was ever considered ‘rubbish’.
The first place I worked took delivery of concrete, land waste, rubble and muck. It’s different to a council tip, it’s like a transfer station. I didn’t realise it at the time but we also took in the carcasses of suspect cows after the Mad Cow Disease. There are hundreds of them buried at the site where I worked.
These places always stink. They are full of rats too. The first tip I worked at I couldn’t stick at because of all the rodents.
Some days it was like a scene from The Pied Piper because there were that many rats. You’d go into one area with a bucket to start sorting stuff out. You’d dislodge something and then 400 – 500 rats would run out. It was awful.
The upside of working at the second private tip was that if you spotted something you kept it. I developed an eye for stuff that might be worth something.
The paintings that people toss on skips are incredible. I’d spot the portraits worth something and could usually make a few hundred pounds. We’d have salvage yard contacts phoning us daily for information on what was coming in.
A mate got £8,000 for a fireplace. He was paid in cash for it. On any day you’d find stuff worth £100 to £1,000. We’d split it.
Some weeks I could earn £2,000 on top of my wages.
The skip company would send through 200-300 skips a day. A lot of the smaller items got transferred into the vast airport hangar-style building.
As books came in on the conveyor belt people would flick through every single one of them. I knew they were on the look out for bank notes. It’s the first place people hide money at home – and then forget about it.
It wasn’t unusual to find £60 in a morning. Homeowners always forgot where they’d put an emergency stash.”
‘The best part was women running in their dressing gowns’
Full-time carer Michael Andrews, 31, lives with his partner and their five children. They live in Chesterfield.
Michael says: “I worked on the bins 11 years ago. The hours were brutal. I was up at 6am and at work for 7am. Depending on the round I’d barely get home for dinner. Other times I’d be home by 5pm.
The best part about the job was the women running down their front paths clutching their dress gowns. They didn’t always manage to keep them closed either so we’d see too much. A lot of women on my round clearly slept in the nude.
They were usually running late in bringing the bin to the kerb. Whoever says putting the bins out is a bloke’s job is clueless. It’s usually their other half who yanks the bins up to the kerb.
The bin has to be exactly at the kerb – otherwise we were told to ignore it. Council rules.
People respect us on the job. Most of the time they didn’t take the mick in what they put out either. The truth was they knew we would leave it behind if they did.
The worst thing about working on the bins was the smell. Everything stank. There was mouldy food – often full of maggots.
You got used to fluids leaking out of bags and bins. The worst in the summer were all the beer cans – stale beer stinks to high heaven.
Some people are really sloppy. They put the correct recycling items at the top of the bins and chuck whatever they like underneath it. It was a common excuse to try and get rid of whatever. We were told to leave a note saying we couldn’t remove it.
One bin was really heavy and I couldn’t even tilt it back. I had a quick look inside and it was full of oil – that stayed put with a warning notice on it.
I made a note of the street name and number and the council usually wrote to them with a warning – that sort of stuff isn’t on.
The things people throw out into the recycling bins is mind-boggling – I’ve found everything from a pair of new shoes to a dead cat.
I once found a wallet with all of the cards cut up inside it. All of the security details were there though. Talk about thick.
I used to be covered in fleabites too. Fleas swarm around the bins and the dustcart after the food. It was a disgusting job but I needed the cash.
I never threw up but I had to leave the job after less than a month. I’ve got bad reflux and I couldn’t hack the smells. It’s no fun being on the verge vomiting all day at work.”
‘Posh people chucked out Jacuzzis’
Rob Gilbert, 56,is married and lives in High Wycombe. He refurbishes bathrooms and kitchens.
He says: “I’ve worked on the bins since I was 23. I started out on the dustcarts and was with them for 16 years.
You always got Christmas tips – the understanding was usually so they get extra bags throughout the year. I’ve been given cans of beer, bottles of wine, cash.
Once a plastic bumper came flying out of a bin and sliced me across the nose.
It is fair to say that, thanks to the smells on the cart, not one woman ever flirted with me either.
The summertime was the worst. You get rats running out of the bins.
I’d say to anyone who eats out regularly, check the back of the restaurant first. It might be posh at the front but my experience is if there are rats around their bins then it is best avoided.
You also get used to bags falling apart thanks to cats and dogs chewing through them.
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After that I also worked for a skip business. I couldn’t believe what some of the posher houses got rid of. At one property a Jacuzzi had been chucked out. It was one of the inflatable ones with a pump and worked. I noticed her garage full of brand new stuff she obviously never used either.
One play centre threw away a load of kids’ cars. When my lot were younger I kept two of them, repaired them and they were great. It was mind-boggling that someone would discard something that would work with a bit of TLC.
I miss the job – but believe it or not you do get used to the smell!”