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World's first 'human detector' developed to stop homeless people being tipped out of industrial bins

Phoebe Southworth
The device fits onto the exterior of the bin and is programmed to detect if someone is or has been inside it

Experts have developed the world's first 'human detector' to stop people being tipped out of industrial bins into the back of lorries by rubbish collectors.

Twenty people have died in the last 10 years after being accidentally thrown into trucks, according to the Waste Industry Safety and Health organisation.

Some were revellers looking for somewhere warm and dry to sober up after a night out, while others were some of the estimated 320,000 homeless people in the UK taking shelter until the morning.

To address the problem, manufacturer Total Waste Solutions (TWS) has built the very first 'human detector' of its kind so workers have an extra layer of protection against unwittingly tipping out bins with people inside.

The device fits onto the exterior and is programmed to pick up on movement, gas, temperature and humidity. It lights up green if no one has been in the container since it was last emptied, and turns red if someone is or has been inside. 

It can also be controlled using bluetooth on a smartphone or tablet so workers don't have to leave their vehicles.

The data, which is saved to the device's memory for 30 days, can help to identify 'high risk bins' which people are more likely to climb inside to keep warm and dry.

This information can then be passed to homeless organisations so they can target particular areas.

It is currently being trialled by six carriers across six UK cities.

The aim is to allow those who use bins as shelter to be able to continue to do so, but at the same time ensure waste disposal workers do not suffer any stress and anxiety about inadvertently hurting someone while collecting rubbish.

Some of the profits made from each unit sold will be donated to small local homeless charities to provide food, aid and clothing to those in need.

A homeless woman is found inside a bin which was about to be emptied

In 2017, waste management company Veolia reported 32 incidents of people being found inside their bins in the UK. The previous year, Biffa found a staggering 175.

One victim was 34-year-old Matthew Symonds, whose remains were found in a waste recycling plant in Bristol in 2014. He had taken refuge underneath some cardboard in Swindon bin after being refused entry to a homeless shelter, and was tipped into a lorry as he slept.

Matt Harrison, director of homeless charity StreetLink, said: "Sadly a number of people who are sleeping rough do lose their lives or sustain an injury as a consequence of taking refuge in a bin, which is an incredibly dangerous thing to do.

"The most reliable way to avoid accidents is for waste management companies to introduce formal policies for checking bins prior to tipping. While no substitute for a manual check, a device that can help alert refuse crews to a person’s presence would be welcome as an additional safety measure."

Executive director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler, said: “People sleeping in bins is unfortunately a sad fact of life, particularly around this time of year.

"While a dry recycling bin might seem to offer a comparatively safe place to seek shelter for the night, we simply can’t condone this behaviour because it is inherently dangerous and people are placing themselves at considerable risk of injury and death if undetected prior to the container being tipped into a refuse vehicle.

"While technology solutions are actively explored, waste management companies should continue to train crews on the robust safety checks needed before tipping bins. Waste producers also have an equally important role to play and should ensure that containers are locked and secured at all times."

Pat Jennings, from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), said: "Any measure that can help to reduce the risks associated with people sleeping in bins is welcome and, as the professional body for the resources and waste sector, CIWM is keen to hear about the results of the trials currently being undertaken by TWS."