The management of waste, its collection, processing, and disposal, is vital for protecting public health. A Witness Seminar on The Development of Waste Management in the UK c.1960–c.2000 included several contributions from former refuse collectors, waste managers, academics and policy makers. The changing nature of waste, the potential ill effects of that waste, and the consequences its management were all discussed at that meeting. However, it was obvious that there were many more accounts and stories, viewpoints and experiences that had not been recorded during the Seminar, and thus a further series of individual interviews was undertaken with some of the participants, and with others who had not been able to participate in the original meeting.
At the forefront of academic research on waste management in the UK, Dr Chris Coggins initiated studies of civic amenity sites, or ‘dumps’, in the 1980s. In this interview, he discusses how his research led to the creation of the industry standard Wastedataflow system in the 1990s, and how he influenced the use of recycling in industry, from the incineration of car tyres to the introduction of repurposed electronics.
Committed to changing the culture of waste management in the UK, Jeff Cooper has been involved in the management of various governmental organisations, such as the London Waste Regulation Authority and the Environment Agency. In this interview, he also discusses his work on recycling initiatives in the 1980s within the ‘political quagmire’ of local government.
Working in the UK’s waste management sector for more than 40 years, Barry Dennis testifies to the vast changes he has witnessed in his industry, and in society’s wider consumption and disposal habits. His career has encompassed technical and strategic challenges, from incinerating vast quantities of contraband at London’s docks to becoming Director General of the Environmental Services Association.
Working as an engineer for the Greater London Council’s Department of Public Health in the 1960s, John Ferguson was part of the capital’s bid to unite London boroughs’ public health and environment schemes. He pioneered engineering solutions to handle the ever-increasing, and changing, forms of waste, such as energy-from-waste plants and containerised river haul. He also dealt with the significant problems concerning medical waste disposal in the 1980s.
With decades of experience in formulating policies on waste management in the UK and Europe, Professor Jan Gronow has been a key government advisor on pollution and waste management strategies. In this interview, she laments over the bureaucratic issues with translating evidence and expertise into actionable change, and warns of the perils of underfunding in the sector.
An expert in waste management education and public engagement, Professor Judith Petts was Director of the Centre for Hazard and Risk Management at Loughborough University. She led training for staff in the newly formed Environment Agency in the mid-1990s, and her many public service roles have included membership of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (2005–2011).
Dame Joan Ruddock and Jeff Cooper worked together on the Control of Pollution Act in 1989, holding positions as MP and as Waste Planner for the London Waste Regulation Authority respectively. Their collaboration was also instrumental on the Household Waste Recycling Act of 2003, legislation that introduced doorstep recycling and the use of separate wheeled bins.
After his service as an army car mechanic during the Second World War, Ernie Sharp worked as a dustman in the London Borough of Lewisham. In this interview, he discusses how he progressed up the ranks to Assistant General Manager of the Greater London Council’s Solid Waste Management Branch. He taught waste management at Hackney Community College for over 30 years, and he was awarded an MPhil, aged 88, from the University of Northampton.
Formerly a guitarist, who toured with The Kinks, in 1974 Mick Wright became a dustman for Luton Borough Council. Over his 40-year career at Luton, where he eventually became Head of Waste Management, he discusses his role in union politics as a Transport and General Worker’s Union Senior Shop Steward during the privatisation of waste services, and the challenges of engaging communities in recycling.