Homelessness: Disturbing rise in the number of people sleeping in bins

As the cold weather sets in, more rough sleepers risk injury or death

The number of people being made homeless in the UK is on the rise, and the number of people sleeping in bins to keep warm is growing.

And the quest for shelter could end with these unfortunate people not being spotted when refuse collectors do their rounds.

Waste collection staff are now finding an average of three people a day risking their lives sleeping in bins, says UK waste collection specialists BusinessWaste.co.uk

Company spokesman Mark Hall says,

“The numbers of people found in bins has been increasing for years, and we need to tackle this rough sleeping problem head-on.”

“People sheltering in bins are putting their lives at risk, and the only way we can end this is for urgent action to be taken working alongside waste management companies, homeless charities and local communities.”

How big is the problem?

Homeless charity Shelter estimated that 280,000 people were homeless in England as of December 2019,* and upwards of 4,000 people were estimated to be living on the streets in England following the last official count.*

Unfortunately, the number of people found sheltering in bins has soared in the last few years, from 21% of waste collectors finding people in commercial and domestics bins in 2014, up to 35% in 2019.**

This can have dangerous consequences, as seven people have died in the last five years after sleeping in bins.*** and between April and December 2019, Biffa employees reported 109 “near misses”****, which too could have also proved to be fatal.

But as we enter the coldest season, particularly after a tricky year for most with a record-high number of UK redundancies due to the Covid-19 pandemic*****, UK based Business Waste are concerned that the number of people sleeping in bins will rapidly increase.


“We are talking about a huge risk to life here with people finding themselves in vulnerable situations, and something needs to be done about it. 

“Urgent action is required now to prevent more unnecessary loss of life and harm to these individuals.”

What can be done?

There is a long way to go to prevent people from sleeping in bins, from tackling the main causes of homelessness and rough sleeping, to providing better access to emergency shelters.

But for those working in the waste industry who see this problem every day first-hand, there are some changes that can be made to ensure that bin collections can be safer for everyone.


“The reports are very clear; this is a growing problem that will not just go away, but there is plenty we can all do to try and reduce the impact.”

UK waste specialists BusinessWaste.co.uk are committed to procedures that ensure that no harm comes to those sleeping in bins and have these following recommendations.

  • Fit bins with a working lock to prevent access, so the public cannot get inside.
  • Implement training for checking bins such as banging on bins prior to loading, to alert any potential sleepers of any dangers.
  • Place warning stickers on bins, with both pictures and words so it can be easily understood by all reading abilities and languages.
  • Contact charities if people are found in or near bins, they may not be aware of new rough sleepers in the area and may be able to assist them.
  • Ensure there is a policy in place which is accessible to all staff about the dangers of rough sleepers in bins.
  • Maintain regular reporting of incidents so drivers are more aware of hotspots in local areas.


“We are looking to safeguard the public from any harm that may occur from sleeping in bins, but also to look after our hard-working staff, who would be traumatised to witness any fatalities while on shift.

“If you see someone who is rough sleeping, make sure to report it to local homeless charities who can check in on them and may be able to provide them with shelter or aid – you could help to save a life this winter.”

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