How the UK is Dealing with Delays in Waste Collections

3rd Apr 2020

As we move into April, the coronavirus pandemic and its associated restrictions and closures have had several knock-on effects to the waste and recycling industry, not just in the UK but all across Europe. With the government’s advice to observe social distancing, several collection services and recycling centers have reduced or completely halted service – with worrying consequences. Now is the time for UK businesses to respond with recycling systems and equipment suited for a rapidly changing economic climate.

Recycling cut back across the board

Simon Ellin, chief executive of The Recycling Association, says that restrictions on recycling in the country could lead to a shortage of fibre. This could mean a scarcity of material for recycled packaging, particularly for medical or food supplies going forward. For now, both households and small businesses can do their part by baling waste and sorting and organising their recycling.

For now, each council has used their own discretion when it comes to doorstep collections for household waste or keeping recycling centres open. With a few notable exceptions (for example, West Sussex County has closed all household waste recycling), most domestic waste is still being processed, albeit with long queues at some recycling sites.

Councils face difficult decisions

Other areas have limited collection to monthly or fortnightly, or advised that food and garden waste would be combined for the foreseeable future – or that garden and bulky waste removal would be de-prioritized entirely. Some councils have had to abandon previous commitments; for example, street cleansing work is now being suspended in favour of more essential waste removal.

And of course, the health of the public, including those working within the recycling industries is paramount, which may cause issues when it comes to collecting waste from locations affected by coronavirus.

On the 25th March, a joint statement was issued on the behalf of the UK’s biggest waste companies, industry groups and the government. The report urged citizens to follow government recommendations, stating, “Following government advice, to protect workers and combat the spread of infection, anyone who feels ill at home (whether diagnosed with Covid-19 or not) should place all their waste in the general rubbish bin, and should double-bag it, making sure the bags are securely tied. They should then wait at least 72 hours before placing it out for collection. For now, this material should not be put in your recycling.”

Effects are likely to be ongoing

Commercial waste is liable to be a bigger problem considering ongoing uncertainty with the country’s lockdown. Large manufacturers, shops and restaurants are now closed and no longer supplying recyclable material, or else what is being produced is unable to be sent through the ordinary channels. Similar shortages in other European countries have resulted in them ordering fibre from the UK – although many warn that a packaging shortage in this country is imminent. Now there are concerns for the long-term impact of the pandemic on key European recycling markets.

The waste industry has understandably been deemed a key industry. The UK’s Environmental Services Association has welcomed the government’s recognition of waste operatives as key workers, and the challenge now is both to limit the spread of infection as well as maintain as little disruption to vital services as possible. Staff shortages are likely to be felt long after quarantine measures are relaxed.

The Independent Commodity Intelligence Services is monitoring the long-term impact of the global pandemic on the European recycling market. With limited material being collected due to recycling center closures and collection limitations, and logistics disruptions due to closed borders, effects are felt all across Britain, and not just in the packaging sector. The petrochemical industry and crude oil, for example, is experiencing the effects of consumer change as well, and global supply chains are reeling and struggling to adapt. Supply and demand for certain kinds of plastic are now being disrupted as consumers panic buy and hoard things like plastic water bottles yet recycle far less.

The Recycling Association is now planning to alert government of likely packaging material shortages in the coming weeks and months. The public has been urged to do their part and closely monitor the recycling situation in their own councils, for example holding off on creating large amounts of garden waste or travelling a little further to a recycling center that has remained open. Likewise, all businesses are encouraged to continue as normal, recycle as much as possible and avoid stock piling.

For the moment, the long-term impact of the virus on many industries remains uncertain. In coming months, countries are likely to shift their focus from mitigating the health effects of the pandemic to dealing with the economic fallout that will almost certainly follow.



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