Trade associations and Defra have been discussing a cross-sector approach to handling waste management in the light of the current coronavirus crisis.
A call for everyone within the industry to work together is expected to be made this week. It will reiterate the essential role those in waste management play as part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ work to ensure the sector keeps operational and that problems are overcome.
The sector is facing challenges across all activities, including: a need to keep energy from waste and anaerobic digestion plants filled; communicate clear messages to the public; the collection of waste and recycling safely with the potential for up to 50% of operatives off work; along with plant operators in sectors such as wood and green waste concerned that incoming supplies will reduce.
Some guidance has already been produced, including that from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management. It issued guidance on 20 March to those in the sector still expected to come into work and, importantly, updated guidance regarding the coronavirus pandemic for the waste management and recycling sector, around the collection of waste in particular, is expected in the next few days.
As reported by letsrecycle.com, PHE advice at present states waste should be double-bagged and stored for 72 hours (see letsrecycle.com story) and this is expected to continue to feature in guidance from local authorities to the public.
Waste sector employees were given ‘key worker’ status on 19 March (see letsrecycle.com story).
This includes advising workers they should stay two metres apart from work colleagues, while every effort should be made to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace.
The CIWM guidance states: “The Government has issued advice and a list of the non-essential businesses that have been ordered to close as of 23rd March. Waste management companies are not included on the list and businesses not on the list are currently allowed to remain open.
“However, waste management companies of any size or type who continue operating during the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic must take all necessary measures to protect the workforce and the public and minimise the risk of spread of infection through observing the control measures introduced by the Government.”
These measures, CIWM says, include observing the highest levels of health and safety.
The briefing added sector organisations were working with UK governments and regulators to establish where regulatory flexibility may be needed to ensure that safe and effective waste management activities could continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
CIWM also notes a Procurement Policy Notice has been published by the Cabinet Office, providing guidance for public bodies on payment of their suppliers to ensure service continuity during and after the coronavirus outbreak.
It states that contracting authorities must act now to ensure suppliers at risk are able to resume normal contract delivery once the outbreak is over.
A number of priority actions for contracting authorities are listed, including undertaking an urgent review into their contract portfolio, before informing suppliers they believe to be at risk that they will continue to be paid as normal (even if service delivery is disrupted or temporarily suspended) until at least the end of June.
London Councils, the local government association for Greater London, is part of a multi-agency strategic coordination group set up to develop the response to issues including waste management, along with adult social care, supporting vulnerable people and the impact on business and the economy.
Established under existing pan-London resilience arrangements, the group meets regularly to co-ordinate the response to the coronavirus across London.
London Councils is represented at the strategic coordination group by Southwark chief executive Eleanor Kelly.
And, the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) has set up a forum for the public sector and those in the private sector working on public contracts to develop and share contingency plans in the face of covid-19.
Hosted on the app Slack, the forum includes specific discussion channels on commercial collections, communications, household collections, HWRCs, resource and staffing, street cleansing and waste disposal.
LWARB says that although multiple stakeholder groups have already been independently established, the aim of the new forum is to bring together all the different audiences in one concerted effort to tackle the virus.
The establishment of the forum is an opportunity for each council or company to share what it is doing, how its services are changing, and what is being prioritised, LWARB says.
“This may change as government staff get diverted onto covid-19 work, but we are planning on the basis that meetings still go ahead and LARAC will be represented at them.”