FRM Covid 19 weekly update no. 5

This is the fifth in our series of weekly update of impacts we have observed of Covid-19 in the waste sector. Ten 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. Recycling ups and downs – last week saw episode 3 of the Let’s Recycle webinar series on waste and recycling during Covid-19, with a focus on materials and markets. Key points made were:

Paper - The market for recovered paper is at unprecedented levels at the moment, with demand from Europe increasing the market price from the (low) levels over the last 12 months. However, if supply continues to be adversely affected by lockdown measures, there is concern that some mills may close, resulting in an over-supply. In addition, the composition of mixed papers from households is changing, due to increased quantities of board / card from online deliveries; this could result in loss of PRN generation as the amount of packaging in mixed paper grades is fixed for PRN purposes.

Plastics – At the time of writing, the oil price is at an all-time low as a result of storage and reduced use by industry and the general economy at this current time of pandemic. Environmental taxes are playing a part in helping the market in times of uncertainty, with the value of the PRN and the potential tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content boosting the value of recycled plastics.

Glass - Glass quantities overall have reduced as a result of pubs, clubs and restaurant closures. While we may be drinking more at home than before, it isn’t generating the same arisings of recycled glass and the quality is lower. News commentary suggests that the hospitality sector is likely to be one of the last to get back to ‘normal’ when lockdown ends, so the arisings for glass may very well be low for some months yet.

Wood - The short-term outlook for the recycled wood market is bleak, in the words of the Wood Recycling Association, it has been decimated by Covid-19. Arisings are down by around 90%, and concerns abound over the ability to keep biomass plants running, especially without the usual stockpiling for winter fuel over the summer months. If the lockdown continues for much longer there is the risk of imbalance in the market, which has taken 15 years to balance, with some biomass plants closing permanently.

2. Storage Savvy –WRAP has reported a four-fold increase in the number of visitors to the Love Food Waste website, and an increase in the number of people accessing the tips on food storage. Recent research by Hubbub suggests that people are throwing away much less food now, as many people have more time to cook and plan meals, as well as increased worries over the cost and availability of food. The interesting summary can be found here. Locally, councils are also responding, for example, Shropshire Council is circulating email communications to help residents to store foods and reduce waste.

3. Getting back to ‘normal’? – The latest report by ADEPT published this week shows a greater level of normal service for residual, recycling, food waste and clinical waste collection services in w/c 14th April compared to the last week of March. Bulky waste, garden waste and street sweeping services still had the highest levels of service disruption, but the number of local authorities operating all services normally are increasing each week (except HWRCs, but this may change, see below). Concerns over the quality of recycling at this time seem to be mixed, with some local authorities (e.g. Cardiff Council) incinerating all separately collected dry recycling due to concerns for the safety of crews, while others (e.g. Horsham DC) is reporting increased quality of recycling during the pandemic. We are aware from our clients that some authorities are looking to reinstate garden waste collections imminently, so we can expect tonnages and feedstock to composting plants to increase again. We understand that this is partly due to stabilisation of workforce issues and partly in response to alleviating fly-tipping incidents.

4. Movement on HWRCs - Others Councils are also looking to reopen HWRCs over coming weeks. WISH published their updated guidance last week. A PDF highlighting the changes from the previous edition can be found here. One of the updates includes the ‘Returning to ‘Business as Usual’’ section of the guidance, the guidance now sets out what waste management operators need to consider when reopening HWRC’s which has been a hot topic for the last couple of weeks. Furthermore, Veolia have set out a document looking at safe operating practice at HWRCs available here.

5. Workforce issues – There are lots of positive messages for key workers at the moment, and all the large waste management companies are reporting various messages and tokens of gratitude given to their collection crews by residents. Veolia is running its #StreetSmiles campaign to encourage residents to support crews. On staffing levels, we are seeing a mixed picture for frontline waste collection services. Some authorities [Enfield, Coventry] are experiencing significant (>15%) absences, while another of our clients have informed us that their staff attendance is the highest it has ever been! While this might be counter-intuitive in the current situation, there could be a number of contributing factors which may include heighted public importance of the role, concerns over job security, psychological factors etc. We would be interested to know your experiences in this area, please do drop us a line at info@frithrm.com .

6. Managing the Strain – Our Director, Paul Frith, has drafted an opinion piece considering the medium-term effects of Covid-19 on waste management services. Take a look here.

7. Regulation & compliance – Building on the earlier relaxation of permitted storage limits at waste treatment sites a couple of weeks ago, this week saw the Environment Agency relax the requirement for signing and handing over paper copies of waste transfer and consignment notes in person. The temporary Covid-19 regulatory position statements can be found here.

8. What’s going on elsewhere? – We have had a look to see what is happening in other countries and how they are dealing with the Covid-19 situation for delivering waste services. There are some interesting parallels and different approaches, take a look at the blog here.

9. WasteAid virtual safari walk- we are proud supporters of WasteAid and for obvious reasons the annual ‘Walk for WasteAid’ which was scheduled to take place in June has been cancelled. However the team at WasteAid have created and launched a 75km virtual safari around Lake Naivasha, Kenya, offering a fun and educational experience whilst making the most out of our daily exercise allowance, click here for more information.

10. Sharing and collaborating – while not directly related to Covid-19, CIWM’s WasteConnect tool offers a useful information sharing platform for those working in the waste management field; of increasing importance as we all continue to adjust to the new norm of home /distance / remote working. The platform is available to all CIWM members and provides a useful space for waste professionals to connect, share ideas, advice and solve problems.

All articles and updates on Covid-19, and other waste / resource management and environmental services issues are included on our website www.frithrm.com

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