This is the third in our series of weekly update of impacts we have observed of Covid-19 in the waste sector. 10 issues are summarised, to provide a picture of what we are seeing and hearing from our perspective in the intention of providing a sector briefing, partly because we are working now more independently than ever before, and partly because this is a rapidly moving situation.
1) Government Guidance on Service Prioritisation: Early last week, Defra issued guidance setting out high, medium and low priority collection services - with garden waste, bulky waste and bring site collections falling into the ‘low’ range of priorities. This is consistent with services suspending these activities in practice. Furthermore, weekly dry recyclable collections are considered a low priority, instead favouring fortnightly collections in the light of resource constraints.
2) Collaboration: A ‘match making’ platform is being developed by CIWM, called WasteSupport to facilitate a collaborative use of resources between the public and private sectors to maintain essential services. This will include the potential for use of drivers, vehicles, maintenance engineers, PPE etc. This is an online tool commencing this week (see (https://www.ciwm.co.uk/) )
3) Commercial Waste: The lockdown effect and the requirement to only travel into work where no home working options are available, has meant that in some authority areas up to 90% of commercial collections have stopped. This does provide potential for both contingency capacity in terms of drivers and vehicles, where appropriate, as being explored in the Collaboration item above.
4) Treatment and disposal: There has been relatively little disruption reported at EfWs and landfill sites so far. There are some issues relating to social distancing at MRFs, however BEIS has issued new guidance to support workers; recognising that waste management is an essential service. This guidance also includes advice for drivers and driver’s mates in waste collection vehicles. Guidance can be seen here.
5) Communications: The Waste & Recycling Action Programme (WRAP) will be launching a National Communications campaign very shortly to support householder behaviour and waste collections.
6) Commodity market: The recyclate commodity market is very fluid at the moment, changing on a day to day basis. There is a high demand for recyclables globally, due to a loss of supply and in particular there are notable shortages of paper & card, glass, and plastic. Spanish reprocessors / brokers are seeking material from the UK as domestic supplies are interrupted. It has been reported that the amount of kerbside collected card has gone up 40% as a result of the increased demand for internet purchased products and card / paper based product movements, and some impact from setting up of home offices.
7) Commodity prices: Paper and card prices have increased 3-4-fold since the pandemic began, as a reflection of the issues noted above and also the closure of the HWRCs and suspension of collections from bring banks.
8) Waste at the kerbside: There remains a variety of abnormal local practices in terms of kerbside collection. In cases where food waste services may have been suspended for example, householders may be asked to still present food waste separately in a food bin, to maintain behaviour (despite it subsequently being deposited in an RCV with residual waste). Side waste is generally not being accepted, despite HWRCs being closed, as reported last week. Merseyside have launched a campaign to encourage householders not to create additional waste during the lockdown (see https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/waste-can-wait-campaign-launched/ ).
9) HWRC’s & Flytipping: In line with Government guidance on prioritisation (item 1) it is felt across the sector that whilst there is an awareness that the HWRC closures are going to cause feedstock issues (for example around wood waste) and the potential for flytipping, reopening the sites at this current time is a concern for public safety and social distancing.
10) Crew/operational staff safety: The WISH guidance contains a hierarchy of control i.e. if crews can be transported separately to the rounds then that is preferred but there is an acknowledgement that this is not always possible. One large council is using their fleet of minibuses to transport crew members to rounds meaning the driver is the only person in the cab at one time. Government released guidance last week providing flexibility on the 2 metre social distancing requirement recognising that it is not always possible for all sectors (see link on item 4).