Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
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What a load of rubbish … Tower Hamlets’ waste emergency caught on camera

Eight days of strike action was all it took to create a borough-wide waste problem that the Council couldn’t ignore, bringing the refuse worker strikes to every doorstep in Tower Hamlets.

Traders wheeling market stalls swerve carrier bags and crisp packets strewn across the Roman, children hopscotch past heaps of rubbish bags towering over their heads, and Canary Wharf office workers crowd into lifts to escape the festering rubbish lining the pavements below. 

These were the scenes on the streets of Tower Hamlets not so long ago when our refuse workers went on strike to demand better pay and more job security from 18 – 27 September. 

The state of the borough’s streets – from Brick Lane to Bow Road and Watney Market to Whitechapel – was a powerful reminder of the essential work carried out by refuse workers and street cleaners. 

After eight days of strikes, the waste problem on our doorstep risked spilling over into a real public health crisis. Tower Hamlets Council was forced back to the negotiating table where they reached a resolution with Unite the Union to end the industrial action.  

But the accumulating rubbish bags did not go unnoticed on social media, with one particularly large pile on Brick Lane dubbed the ‘Mount Everest of rubbish’. 

Some Twitter users lamented that the East End had become a ‘National embarrassment,’ while others picked fun at the festering pink waste bags which read: ‘working together for a cleaner borough’.

Whatever your stance on the strikes, the eight days of industrial action created a certain camaraderie across the borough, uniting residents in our shared experience of what it would be like to live without rubbish collections. 

These photos capture Tower Hamlets in all its festering glory and provide a snapshot of a moment in time. If you squint your eyes, you might even find them surprisingly beautiful. 

Overspilling bin near Roman Road Market arches during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Overspilling bin near Roman Road Market arches during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023. Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Commuter walking past piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Whitechapel Market piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Rubbish piles in Whitechapel Market during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023. Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Outside the Albert pub, piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Ford Road, piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Piles of rubbish on Ford Road during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023. Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Street cleaner clearing piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Cardboard recycling and piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Boxes piled up with rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Bethnal Green Road piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
Rubbish cart view from piles of rubbish during the Tower Hamlets refuse worker strikes in 2023.
Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC

For some shots of our neighbourhood in prettier times, you might like these photos of Roman Road Market in the 1990s.

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