Meet Gloucester's secret army of bin rummagers who dive into the city's dustbins for anything they can get their hands on.
But as the Citizen uncovers their rifling habits, they are being warned that they could face up to seven years in prison for theft if they are caught in the act.
Rummager Richard Cook, 54, from St Michael’s Square, said: “Gloucester is the best place to go looking. I have been to Chelsea, Soho and Cheltenham. Gloucester is the best.
“There seems to be a lot in the charity shop bins. I come because I may find something special.
“The best things I have found include an Alice in Wonderland book, a dish and a clock radio. It was a lovely clock and the figures on it were in tact so I took that home with me.
“I am currently looking for a shelf and a pair of tights but they are not easy to find.”
Mr Cook is one of at least eight different people who take it in turns to pick items out of the waste bins.
He was seen picking clothing out of the bin as well as breaking up scrap wood into smaller pieces, which he then took away with him.
Mr Cook, who had bought food shopping from Wilkinson when the Citizen spoke to him, said he was not homeless and had taken up lodgings in the city.
Discarded clothes, electrical items such as computer monitors and even leftover food have been some of the finds by the people who rummage through commercial waste bins stored at New Inn Lane.
VIDEO: THE BIN RUMMAGERS IN ACTION
The bins are behind the premises belonging to charities such as Salvation Army and PDSA, as well as firms including Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Sports Direct. One bin is from the Guildhall arts venue, run by Gloucester City Council.
Removing items from a bin can be classed as theft, which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years.
In a spate of incidents on almost a weekly basis over the last two months, rummagers got their hands on:
- Electrical items such as computer monitors, a drill and a VHS player
- Clothing, CDs and a cooking pot
- Scraps of wood and leftover food
A Gloucester City Council spokeswoman said: “The city council would advise businesses who have any issues with people accessing their bins to speak with their trade waste carrier to have the bins locked.
“It is the responsibility of each of us to deal with our waste responsibly.
“The Guildhall bin is stored in this area and we are aware that people do go through it from time to time, but haven’t had any issues with waste being left outside of the bins. If this did become an issue then the city council would consider locking the bins.”
Charity shops were quick to defend the way they handle their waste.
James Preece, area retail manager, for YMCA, one of the shops which backs onto New Inn Lane, said: “The bins in the photographs do not belong to our YMCA shop. We keep our bins securely locked up during the week and they are only put out on collection days.”
A spokeswoman for animal charity PDSA said that they placed their rubbish in bags on collection day. She added: “Any donations we receive that aren’t saleable are ragged or recycled to raise funds for the charity. So there wouldn’t be anything other than general waste, such as from the kitchen, in our rubbish.”
It is unclear why many of the rummagers do what they do – but some have been spotted eating scraps of food, raising fears that some people may be turning to desperate measures just to eat.
Anneliese Sterry, from Gloucester Foodbank, which has seen a sharp rise in the number of people coming through the doors for handouts, said: “This is not a surprise to us at all. It is not uncommon for this to happen.
“We have people coming to use who have not eaten for days. We have just one where a mother came in with her eight year old. She was complaining of pains because she hadn’t eaten anything.”
Gloucester Foodbank gave food parcels to 4,500 people in the last year.
LAW ON BIN RUMMAGING
Police in Gloucester say that they do not recall making an arrests recently in the city surrounding the theft of items from waste bins – but they say that it can be seen as a criminal offence.
Theft from private property can lead to a maximum jail sentence of seven years, under the Theft Act of 1968. Convictions for such activities are thought to be rare.
Several arrests were made in Cardiff in 2012 after a spate of people targeted bin bags by slashing them open in a hunt for clothes that could be sold on.
There are also fears surrounding identity theft. Documents with personal details that are not properly destroyed can be used by criminals to steal identities.
Fraudsters can use your identity details to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards, loans and state benefits, order goods, take over existing accounts and obtain documents such as passports and driving licences in your name.