STAFF at a recycling site saved the day for a mother who accidentally dropped her car key into a huge rubbish bin.

Julie Stockinger feared the worst when the only key for her rare Saab estate car slipped from her hand.

But site staff leapt to the rescue, spent hours painstakingly picking through four tonnes of rubbish and found her key.

On Tuesday she returned to Maresfield Household Waste Recycling Site, near Uckfield, to thank them with sweets and beers.

Ms Stockinger, 36, from Uckfield, said: “I picked up some rubbish and threw it into the big bin with both hands, then heard a clink of metal.

“That’s when I realised the car key had gone in.

“I literally cried on the spot. The car is quite rare and I would have had to order a replacement key from Sweden, which would have cost hundreds of pounds and taken several days.”

She spoke to Becky Walter, a weighbridge operator at the site, who enlisted colleagues to help look for the missing key.

But after two hours, with closing time looming, there was still no sign of it.

Staff helped Ms Stockinger secure her car as she called a taxi for herself and children Ella, four, and one-year-old Jack.

She said: “I didn’t even bother to call the tip as I thought I had no chance of getting the key back, but then Becky rang me to say they’d found it. I couldn’t believe it and I cried again.”

Staff at the recycling site had stayed late and come in early in the morning to continue the search – and it paid off.

“I know they get some flak from the public sometimes but I just can’t praise the staff there enough,” Ms Stockinger said.

“I got an amazing service and they really couldn’t have done any more to help.”

Ms Stockinger returned to the site, operated by Veolia, to thank the staff with gifts of a bouquet, sweets and beers.

Karl Taylor, East Sussex County Council assistant director for operations, said: “Our household waste site employees do a fantastic job in all weathers providing a vital service.

“It’s great to hear how the workers at Maresfield went the extra mile to reunite Julie with her car key and to be able to recognise their dedication to helping the public.”