The Evolution of Street Cleansing services amid Covid

By Steve Robinson & Paul Frith

The priorities of the Street Cleansing service have been radically altered by Covid-19 and staff are switching focus or in many cases switching roles as Councils and contractors juggle new demands.

Cyclical to Intermittent

Street Cleansing in ‘ordinary times’ is primarily a cyclic activity. It involves sweeping, cleansing, bin emptying and a range of other tasks on a ‘once per week’ or ‘twice per day’ type set of cycles which vary around key locations and sometimes around season and times of day. The need for these cyclical tasks is substantially diminished due to less footfall, less lunchtime litter, fast food packaging etc. in the public realm. The other aspect of street cleansing is intermittent work, e.g. responding to fly-tipping or irregular demand / tasks that require completion. These tasks, previously the minority, are now forming the majority of activities. Fly-tipping is a major current problem, for several reasons - as well documented in our weekly Covid updates. It doesn’t make sense to focus on normal litter duties of which there is less demand, if, for example, there is a fly-tip at the end of the Cul-de-sac. There may be other areas of unexpectedly high demand, such as dog waste bins. A consequence of the lock-down includes the potential for dog owners taking longer and more regular dog walks, potentially to areas further afield to try and maintain social distancing. This can create greater burdens on the dog bin capacity and related issues.

Cleaning & Disinfecting

Seldom are litter bins cleaned and disinfected. Even less often are other hard surfaces - handrails, disabled access push buttons for buildings, grab rails, and so on, cleaned to a high degree. In many Council areas street cleansing operatives are switching to these tasks. They are ideally suited to it: they are multi-location operatives, with transport, familiar with all types of public realm site, health and safety trained and experienced in cleaning. Disinfecting hard surfaces his achieves two important aims, firstly it reduces the opportunity for Covid-19 to transfer in the public space and secondly it engenders and supports public confidence that appropriate measures are being taken.

Multi-site & Redeployment

For the reasons mentioned above, street cleansing staff are well positioned to undertake other tasks that may be needed in multi-site locations. The transfer to refuse collection type activities has been well documented, but other roles may also be undertaken to support wider council services, such as drivers delivering meals on wheels or other necessary functions to support the residents.

Public Perception

Several of the new priorities mentioned above will be perceived positively by members of the public, they show staff reacting to new problems, issues and needs and maintaining services in the face of Covid-19 risk. This is also reflected in public appreciation: “thank you for all you are doing”, “we appreciate the jobs you are doing”. The role is important not only for the service provided, but also because of the workforce skills and flexibility and finally because of the supportive impact on the public.

Frith Resource Management provide technical support to Councils in the delivery of environmental services. For any queries contact us on: tel. 01746 552423 or email

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