The SWP and its contractor Suez are responsible for more than 350,000 collections every week.
In recent weeks, staffing shortages have caused significant delays to some recycling and garden waste collections in areas such as Bridgwater, Wincanton and Taunton, among others.
The SWP attributed its issues to “an escalating nationwide shortage of truck drivers”, exacerbated by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mickey Green, the SWP’s managing director, said: “We know we’re not where we need to be, but there’s no quick fix. We apologise and are working hard to get things back of track. Please bear with us.
“It’s frustrating, but let’s not forget that these crews are key workers who have worked non-stop through a pandemic that has increased loads by about 20%.
“A lot of people have worked long hours to make sure waste is collected. It’s very difficult at the moment and we appreciate your patience.”
Recycling collections missed from last week are to be picked up on this week’s scheduled collection day, the SWP says, while crews will return as soon as possible for any missed this week, within two days if they can.
On 9 June, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) trade association issued a statement saying the UK HGV driver shortage had hit “catastrophic proportions”.
“The pandemic resulted in the loss of about 12 months of driver training and testing”
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “The upturn in the economy since Covid-19 is increasing demand across supply chains and the reopening of non-essential retail outlets and parts of the hospitality sector is making the situation even worse.
“The pandemic also resulted in the loss of about 12 months of driver training and testing. The long-term ineffectiveness of apprenticeships for lorry drivers and the general hostility from authorities and government is also unhelpful for recruiting and retaining drivers.”
Driver recruitment is especially difficult in Somerset, the SWP says, with lots of distribution centres in the county. It says it is equally difficult to recruit collection crews and secure a reliable supply of agency cover when needed.
Earlier this month, FCC Environment apologised to residents of South Hams in Devon after an “extremely poor” roll-out of a new recycling service, in part caused by equivalent difficulties in recruiting drivers (see letsrecycle.com story). It too noted the difficulties of recruiting drivers in the South West.
Yesterday, the SWP urged qualified HGV drivers, including anyone recently retired, to consider driver and crew vacancies in Bridgwater, Evercreech, and Taunton. It said Suez was working hard to retain, recruit and train drivers, including through “substantial” advertising, a ‘refer a friend’ scheme and approaching ex-Forces networks.
The SWP manages waste and recycling services, including a network of recycling centres and kerbside collections, for all local authorities in Somerset.
In the 2019/20 financial year the SWP had a household waste recycling rate of 52.9%.
Suez officially took over a £210 million collections contract for the Somerset Waste Partnership in March 2020. The waste management company was named the preferred bidder for the contract in May 2019 (see letsrecycle.com story).
The SWP launched a new waste service dubbed Recycle More in October 2020, which saw the gradual introduction of three-weekly residual collections across the county, as well as a separate kerbside collection for pots, tubs and trays (PTT), small electrical equipment and household batteries.