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by Craig Pryce May 24, 2022

We’ve all been there. Sat having breakfast in our pyjamas as we try to enjoy a serene start to the day, before the inevitable pressures of work and everyday life come to the pass.

Suddenly, you hear the clang and clamour of the bin lorry pulling up outside your house, reminding you that bin collection day has skipped your mind. Cue a mad rush as you plonk your steaming (soon to be lukewarm) cup of coffee on the table, run outside slightly dishevelled in your dressing gown, and triumphantly pull your bin to the kerb side within the nick of time.

Amongst the unexpected haste, you get a brief glimpse of your waste being crushed and then transported, as the bin collectors move on to the next property. With such a vast amount of waste collected in one journey, it certainly generates curiosity as to how bin lorries actually work.

We’ve decided to get our hands dirty by revealing the inner workings of a bin lorry and the different rules and regulations they must abide by.

How does a bin lorry work?

Bin lorries were fitted with bin lifting mechanisms in the late 1980s, meaning most of them work off the same principle, where wheelie bins are hydraulically lifted and then emptied into a hopper at the rear.

Emptying the bin while it’s positioned over the hopper relies on the magic of gravity, but there are a few other shrewd tricks that contribute to a flawless loading process. For example, making sure the lids flip harmlessly out of the way.

Once the hopper is full, the operator activates the compacting blade. This blade pushes the rubbish from the hopper into the body of the bin lorry. Once inside the body, hydraulic cylinders continue to compact the rubbish, meaning bin lorries can hold extraordinary amounts of waste, thus staying out on waste collection duty for longer.

Because the compacting unit is on the outside of the lorry, the waste doesn’t fall out when the lorry is full or in motion. Every lorry has its limits, but generally a refuse lorry can hold up to 26 tonnes of waste until it needs to be emptied.

When it comes to the end of the lorry’s round, the rear end of the vehicle tilts back and more hydraulics lift up the hopper part of the lorry, exposing the body. Steps of the compacting process are then reversed and the lorry unloads its contents at a recycling plant or landfill site. 

Sorting out recycled waste typically follows suit in terms of what happens once inside the body of the lorry. However, the distribution part can sometimes work a little differently as some waste collection lorries have separate compartments close together within the vehicle. They’re manufactured to accept two or more types of recyclables, which means they allow the separation of paper, glass, or metal, so each material has its own individual stream.

In most cases, recycled materials are only sorted once they’ve been taken to a dedicated recycling centre or Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Here, any items that can’t be recycled are removed, and the recyclables are then sorted automatically by machines, or manually by workers.

Other forms of bin lorries or bin trucks include side loaders and front loaders. The latter (what our American cousins might call a “dumpster”) will load from the front, straight into the body of the truck from the top.

As their name suggests, the hydraulic arm of a side loader operates from the side and enable workforces to work their way along residential neighbourhoods more efficiently.

What time can bin lorries start in the UK?

Rise and shine. City Centre bin collections can start at 5am, while collections outside City Centres can begin at 6.30am.

Rubbish collections can cause disturbance, particularly with the noise from the vehicle engine and tipping materials such as glass into the hopper. It’s up to the bin lorry crew to carry out waste and recycling collection in a considerate, efficient, and tidy manner.

If you’re unsure about the days and times of your waste collection, simply contact your waste management provider or local authority.

Bin lorry rules

Operators of waste collection lorries and their co-workers need to manage the many risks associated with bin lorries, from waste loading, transportation and unloading, to operating the vehicle itself. Below is a list of seven rules that must be obeyed – though the list shown here is by no means exhaustive.

  • The driver should be able to see clearly around their collection vehicle. This includes the correct positioning of mirrors and keeping windows clean.
  • Warning devices should be fitted to the front and rear of the vehicle so that it can be clearly seen and provide warning to pedestrians and other vehicles in the area. Think reversing alarms, high visibility lights, etc.
  • Drivers and the crew in the cab must wear seat belts when travelling more than 50 metres between stops.
  • The bin lorry should not be driven when overloaded. The use of on-board weight equipment and fitting weight sensors are recommended to benefit drivers.
  • The driver should routinely carry out daily safety checks of the bin lorry, ideally a series of checks to be signed off at the start of each shift. The vehicle should also undergo regular maintenance inspections.
  • Wheelie bins for waste and recyclables should be placed in locations that minimise the need for difficult vehicle manoeuvres. If necessary, liaise with the customer or business owner.
  • A wheelie bin that weighs more than 30kg should not be lifted into the air as it could potentially damage the truck and put the waste collectors at risk.

Hopefully this blog has underlined the important role that bin lorries play in keeping our cities, commercial premises, homes, and surrounding environment free of rubbish.

Of course, if your household or business are on the hunt for a wheelie bin to make the disposal, management, and collection of waste even easier, feel free to explore the wide range of wheelie bins on the Wheelie Bin Solutions website.

Craig Pryce

Craig Pryce

With over 17 years of experience in the waste and recycling industry, Craig is passionate about making recycling easier and reducing the negative impact of litter. He has been the managing director of Wheelie Bin Solutions (WBS) since January 2016, and prides the company on his expert knowledge, top-quality products, and customer service. His proudest moment was when WBS supported the 2012 Olympic Games, working in partnership with Contenur UK to supply over 9000 bin containers to all Olympic venues. Craig is always keen to share his knowledge, so whether you need advice about the benefits of a wheelie bin lock, or ideas for alternative uses for your wheelie bin, Craig will ensure your recycling and waste disposal habits are gold medal worthy.