South London flats bear brunt of driver shortage

More South London boroughs have stopped collecting separated recycling from some communal flats due to the continuing “impact” of the national HGV driver shortage.

An apartment block in Sutton, pictured in May 2020. The SLWP is to collect recycling and residual waste together from properties such as these in some circumstances (picture: Shutterstock)

Last week, Merton announced that it had decided to merge recycling and residual waste collections at some blocks of flats (see letsrecycle.com story).

Now, similar decisions have been taken by the boroughs of Sutton and Croydon. Each of these councils sees collections carried out by Veolia, and each falls under the umbrella of the South London Waste Partnership (SLWP).

The SLWP sends residual waste for treatment at Viridor’s energy from waste plant in Beddington, South London.

An SLWP spokesperson told letsrecycle.com on 10 September that collections had been disrupted by the “severe” shortage of HGV drivers since June, leading to delays at some properties.

‘Challenging period’

The spokesperson said: “During challenging periods such as this, our collection contractor, Veolia, follows pre-agreed business continuity plans to prioritise services according to the resources available, with operational decisions being made early each morning.

Implementing this measure on a temporary basis in Croydon, Merton and Sutton will help us minimise the impact on the rest of the collection service

– South London Waste Partnership spokesperson

“Co-collecting recycling and refuse from communal flats is one of the first business continuity measures that is implemented.”

They added: “Implementing this measure on a temporary basis in Croydon, Merton and Sutton will help us minimise the impact on the rest of the collection service; many local councils have had to suspend services such as garden waste collections, and that is something we want to avoid if at all possible.”

The SLWP said Veolia was “working hard” to recruit new drivers and hoped to resume normal service “soon”. They said separate collections of recycling from flats would continue “where resources allow”, so residents should continue to sort their waste.

Contamination

The SLWP spokesperson told letsreycle.com that the decision to collect recycling with residual waste from flats was taken because of all the things it could do, it had the “least impact”. They explained this was because recycling from communal properties was often heavily contaminated, meaning it was sent for energy recovery.

The SLWP said recycling from communal properties was often heavily contaminated

The spokesperson said: “Of all the possible things we could do, this one has the least impact on our recycling rate as unfortunately much of the recycling we collect from communal flats is contaminated.”

The SLWP said they were running “several” trials across the region to see what could be done to improve the quality of recycling collected from flats. However, they added this was an “industry-wide challenge”.

Croydon

The London borough of Croydon had a household waste recycling rate of 49.2% in the 2019/20 financial year. It has an estimated population of more than 385,000.

Due to the national HGV driver shortage our contractor Veolia do not have the staff to collect recycling separately

– Croydon council spokesperson

In Croydon, kerbside properties have waste and recycling collected fortnightly. Their food waste collection is weekly. Flats have recycling and refuse collected weekly.

When contacted by letsrecycle.com, a council spokesperson said: “Due to the national HGV driver shortage our contractor Veolia do not have the staff to collect recycling separately, so the council has proactively worked with them to minimise disruptions by combining communal building collections where necessary and moving some collections to the weekend.

“We expect this arrangement to be temporary and will continue to keep residents updated.”

Sutton

Representing an estimated population of more than 200,000, the London borough of Sutton had a household waste recycling rate of 48.5% in the 2019/20 financial year.

The London borough of Sutton had a household waste recycling rate of 48.5% in the 2019/20 financial year

A spokesperson for the council told letsrecycle.com: “There is a national shortage of HGV drivers which has severely reduced the number of bin and recycling crews available across Sutton and beyond. We have taken the decision to protect refuse and recycling collections across the borough rather than reduce the collection frequency as some other councils are doing.

“Regrettably, this means we have temporarily stopped picking up recycling from communal bins. This is because they are often contaminated with non-recyclable waste, meaning we need to send a second crew to pick up and dispose of the waste that cannot be recycled.

“By doing this, we can continue to collect the overwhelming majority of recycling across the borough. Sutton remains fully committed to sustainability and, as soon as HGV driver numbers return to normal, we will revert to collections from communal bins.”

SLWP

The SLWP is made up of Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton. The London boroughs work together to provide waste management services to their residents.

Veolia began an eight-year contract worth around £209 million to manage waste and recycling services on behalf of the SLWP in April 2017 (see letsrecycle.com story).

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