Working As A London Bin Man During The Covid-19 Pandemic

London Bin Man

Photo: Brian Kay ©2018

The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the world forever. It has changed the life of everyone who has lived through lockdown, quarantine, and the previously unheard of times we are living in today. My life has changed forever too, but perhaps not for the reason you are thinking. In the UK, refuse or garbage collectors are known as bin men. We are often considered to be the lowest of the low, alongside street cleaners. We get scoffed at in the street by the unemployed and ridiculed by our counterparts who raked in enough qualification to get a “decent job”

You see, in the world pre-Covid, being a bin man was not considered a decent job. We were literally at the bottom of the pile. Although the bin men of London are hardworking, tax paying human beings, far superior to those who choose a life on state benefits known in the UK as the “dole,” we were still considered to be the dregs of society.

Working During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Life on the Front Line

As vans with tannoy systems and loud speakers drove around the streets advising us to stay indoors, and pubs and shops pulled their shutters down, everyone was glued to their television sets. In the UK measures were not as extreme as in countries like Spain, but the message was still the same. Unless your job was crucial, you were to stay at home. All of a sudden, those who were mocked before became the heroes of the countries. The lowest paid sectors were applauded and clapped at 7 pm, and all of a sudden, being a bin man turned into a respectable career.

Nurses, shop working, petrol station attendants, and road workers went out to work whilst lawyers, school teachers, and dentists stayed home. Nurses who earn barely above the state minimum started to put in double shifts. Shop working had to put up with panic buying, and even brawls and fights in supermarkets. My own son also put, and continues to put his life and health at risk everyday as he walked the hour to work to a local supermarket, avoiding public transport as advised by the government. In my house, very little has changed. Both my son and I get up and go out to work every day to serve the community. Both, minimum paid workers, who put our lives at risk every day to ensure the supermarket shelves are stocked, and the bins and garbage cans are emptied.

In the Spotlight

For the first time in my life however, I feel important. I even stop and think about how my successful class mates from school are probably sunning themselves in the park or at the beach, ignoring the messages for the government telling us to stay at home. I now think in a completely different way than I used to. I am proud to be a bin man, and proud of what I do. I am proud that it is because of people like me that the streets of London are still clean. For the first time in our lives, refuse collectors are in the news for the right reasons. We have become important figures of our society, and we are humbled by the heartfelt messages we read on social media or even stuck to the bins we empty.

Being in the spotlight is strange. I feel my job will never be the same again. After all, what will the “new normal” be? No one knows. But, I can say whole-heartedly that I am glad to work as a garbage man. OK, so maybe if I had made those grades at school I would have a more lucrative career. But right now, in this present moment, I am on the frontline. I am providing a service to the citizens of London. It’s a feeling I can’t quite describe. My job hasn’t really changed. We don’t collect more or less rubbish. But, people have become more considerate, putting waste in bins in closed and tied bags. At last, people are listening! Did it really need for something for this to happen for people to start respecting the environment and planet earth?

Refuse collectors are used to picking up after everyone else, clearing away the things people no longer use or need. But, over the last weeks and months, things have begun to change. People are making more of an effort to keep their bins clean, using the correct containers for household waste, food waste, garden waste, and recyclable items. And believe me, it make our job a lot easier. People are “putting out their bins” in an orderly fashion. We are cheered on as we work sometimes. Other times, we lift the spirits of the community by giving a song or dance as we work. We have become heroes, in hard and uncertain times. And it all goes to prove, that no matter what happens, people will still need the services of the London bin men every single day of the year.


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