WORK EXPERIENCE: Nathan Briant helps out Newport recycling

South Wales Argus: Nathan recycling in Bettws (2702716) Nathan recycling in Bettws (2702716)

I HAD seen Wastesavers workers around Newport, mostly early in the morning on my way to Argus Towers, and was keen to see whether what they did was difficult, or simply them merrily lobbing plastic boxes into a truck with little effort.

So I asked Wastesavers if I could spend some time working with their staff on one of their lorries.

It’s safe to say the work was harder than I thought it would be.

In a brief health and safety session with Ian Simms, one of Wastesavers’ managers, I was told not to shout at strangers who might be getting in my way and to clear any rubbish I might accidentally drop. Essentially, he told me to be helpful and not a nuisance.

As I looked over the yard I was amazed by the scale of what they had collected. Massive blocks of metal stacked on top of each other turned out to be crushed aluminium cans.

And then was taken aback by the stench of the depot when I was taken in there.

When I arrived back at the Argus’ office later that morning, I found the awful smell clung to my clothes even though I had only been in there for about 10 minutes.

I noticed there was a big wall, about five metres high, which ran against the edge of the depot to hold all the paper Wastesavers had collected over a few days before my visit. Unfortunately, if only for people who like and work for newspapers and those who like and send out junk mail, Ian said the amount of paper they are recycling is falling fast.

I was given my kit for the morning – a Wastesavers vest, which had reflective strips down the side and was actually much snugger than I thought it would be; some gloves, like enhanced gardening gloves my grandmother uses in her garden when it’s wet; and some steel toe capped boots.

Ian took me in his car to Bettws at about 9am and we caught up with Shaun and Kevin, who were already part way round their collection.

Quickly I realised it was cold, colder than I realised on my walk to the depot, which sits next to Newport Transporter Bridge.

The gloves, as they got wetter, got colder – along with my hands.

But Shaun said I would warm up as soon as I got some work done. Perhaps I just wasn’t working fast enough. My hands were like blocks of ice until we reached the bottom of a road, where Shaun drove the lorry back up it and let me jump into the cabin for a few precious moments. Every time I did that I had to take my glasses off because they kept steaming up.

I have had jobs where I’ve worked in cold environments before. I worked in industrial freezers in long school and university holidays, but working on that morning was more uncomfortable than all those times. As the sun rose higher, I got a bit warmer, but not much.

Kevin and Shaun impressed on me the importance of collecting each box and putting it back where you found it.

And I thought it was simple enough, initially.

But dashing from box to lorry disorientated me several times. I could not keep track of where the box had come from.

Fortunately, Kevin pointed me to where I’d found them each time so I don’t think I inadvertently lost anyone’s recycling boxes. But just in case, if you lost your recycling boxes a few Tuesdays ago and you live in Bettws, sorry, that was my fault.

But the job was not as simple as collecting a box, launching it into the back of a lorry, sidling back to where you collected it and repeating.

Yes, some people had sorted their rubbish perfectly. Things to be recycled were cleaned out; paper was in the paper box, plastic was where plastic should have been; throwing it into the lorry was straightforward as long as I remembered what went into each container.

Other boxes were less simple – they needed far more care and sorting out. I am sure it was with the best of intentions, and certainly the action of someone who wanted to recycle, but the person who put a broken wine glass in their box did something stupid. I thanked my lucky stars I was wearing gloves. My gung ho attitude, shoving my hands in and rummaging around, was tempered after that box (if you’re wondering, the glass was taken and recycled).

But other people clearly had used even less nouse than that careless recycler. Shaun showed me a box with a sole soiled nappy at the bottom of it. I’m unsure how anyone could think that could be properly recycled (by the way, the nappy was left in the box).

I asked Kevin and Shaun what they thought about their job. They said they enjoyed it when they worked with the right people. Since they liked working with each other, they were enjoying their days on the truck.

And they said they built up relationships with some people they served. When I was working with Kevin and Shaun, a lady gave them some drinks in return for them bringing up her recycling boxes. They said knowing they made a difference and being occasionally treated were perks of the difficult job.

Towards the end of my time on the lorry, I’ll be honest, I was flagging. I’d only walked a few kilometres, if that, but the cold was tiring me out and I was working so much slower than Shaun and Kevin that I tried in vain to work faster, if only to impress.

But I ended up throwing the wrong waste in the wrong compartments several times.

Soon we had completed the round and Shaun drove us back to the depot.

The cans and the plastics were emptied and baled there.

I had not seen so many empty Strongbow cans since university. There were hundreds of them.

Vast waves of plastic was brushed (by Kevin) or kicked (by me, walking up and down as an unruly toddler might do at the beach) on to a conveyer belt where it was pushed into a baler and compacted.

That plastic will have ended up at two recyclers by now – at J and A Young in Loughborough or at EcoPlastics in Lincolnshire.

The cans were crushed, too, into those huge blocks of aluminium, which were taken out to the yard awaiting collection. They will be eventually sent to Corus in Port Talbot and to Thamesdown Recycling in Swindon and melted. The metal is melted down and the ink on the cans evaporates in the ferocious heat.

As for the nappy, I am hoping it was picked up by the council bin team and is now safely in landfill.

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