5 May 2021 by James Langley

Covid-19 sees St Helens’s waste tonnages soar

St Helens borough council said yesterday (4 May) lockdowns and widespread home working had seen it collect extra tonnes of waste during “almost every month” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Council figures from July 2020 to February 2021 show tonnages were up “significantly” when compared to the same period in 2019/20, with dry recycling up 10.84%, green waste up 13.92%, and residual waste up 11.22%.

St Helens borough council there were more than 4,000 tonnes of additional waste when compared to the previous year (picture: St Helens borough council)

This equates to more than 4,000 tonnes of additional waste and recycling.

The “sheer volume” of materials has causing occasional delays to recycling collections, the council says, as vehicles have had to return to the borough’s waste recycling depot to offload waste more often than expected.

Jonathan Edwards, St Helens borough council’s director of operations for place services, said: “While it’s positive that residents are recycling more, the extra material this ‘new normal’ has generated has a direct impact on our waste and recycling services. The more people at home, the more waste is generated in the household and the more resources and time it takes to collect.

“We’ve been deploying every vehicle in our fleet to meet the demands, but until we can improve efficiency at local processing facilities, delays may continue in the short term.”

The council says it is working with its recycling processing provider Veolia to find a solution that enables more efficient processing of the increased volumes, getting crews back on their routes as quickly as possible.


The disposal of St Helens’s household waste is managed by the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority (MRWA), which also manages household waste on behalf of the other Merseyside district councils and Halton council.

Most of Merseyside’s residual waste is disposed of at Suez’s Wilton EfW facility in Teesside (picture: paulbox©)

In 2009 the MRWA awarded Veolia a 20-year waste management and recycling contract worth £640 million (see letsrecycle.com story). In 2014 the MRWA awarded a 30-year residual waste treatment contract worth £1.8 billion to a consortium called Merseyside Energy Recovery Limited (MERL), which was led by Suez (see letsrecycle.com story).

A report which went before a meeting of the MRWA on 5 February said its activities had been impacted “significantly” by the Covid-19 pandemic, with impacts felt across impact both the authority’s main contracts. Changes in working patterns and household waste arisings across Merseyside were said to be contributing factors.

Most of Merseyside’s residual waste is disposed of at the Wilton energy from waste (EfW) facility in Teesside, which is operated by Suez. Where there is available capacity, Suez can accept third party waste at the plant to generate heat and power.

However, Suez’s ability to take in additional third-party waste during the past year has been curtailed by the amount of waste treated on behalf of the MRWA, the report says. If trends continue as expected, the MRWA says it will have dealt with 14% more waste in 2021-21 than in 2019-20.

Climate Action Plan

At a further meeting of the MRWA on 23 April a report on the progress of its ‘Climate Action Plan’ was shared. The MRWA declared a climate emergency in October 2019 and approved an initial Climate Action Plan on 7 February 2020.

As part of the plan a waste composition analysis was to be carried out in 2020. Tenders from ‘suitable suppliers’ were invited to provide estimates for either a four-season or a two-season analysis of the waste streams dealt with by the MRWA.

However, following the receipt of tenders, the MRWA’s progress was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The report says it was felt conditions were so unusual as to render a composition analysis less useful. The waste composition analysis exercise was therefore deferred.


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