12 November 2020 by Robyn White

Tonnage falls found by London waste and Covid study

The London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) presented its findings on how waste services have adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic at a webinar yesterday (11 November). 

Hosted by Antony Buchan, head of programme (Resource London), the ‘Adapting waste services to Covid-19’ webinar showcased research by the resource team at LWARB. The research unveiled included findings from the commercial waste sector, composition changes in waste, and how Covid has impacted the delivery of services.

Commercial waste adaption

LWARB set up a project to look at predictions of commercial waste volumes and composition that would be expected across London.

Project development manager for commercial recycling at LWARB, Sarah Craddock presented the research findings and explained that local authorities saw a drop in tonnage between 60-90% in April this year, but that it dropped closer to more normal volumes of a reduction of 20-25% in July.

Tonnage changes by sector (click to enlarge): source LWARB

Within the commercial sector, councils reported low numbers of customer cancellations but high numbers of contract change requests. The report predicted that there would overall be a 15-20% drop in commercial waste revenue.

In terms of private waste contractors, the report found a tonnage drop for the first quarter of 2020, was similar to that experienced by local authorities.

Overall findings of the report predicted that there would be a decline in commercial waste received by councils between 25-39%, with inner London authorities hardest hit. The most impacted sector within the findings, was accommodation and food services.

Ms Craddock added that there were some “key observations” from local authorities in regards to lockdown 2.0, implemented earlier this month. This includes a more proactive approach from businesses in amending their waste services compared to March, when the first national lockdown was implemented.

London learnings

Local authority support manager, Cathy Cook, talked about a project relating to domestic waste, ‘the London learnings report’.

Ms Cook said: “We wanted to see how local authorities fared during the main part of the Covid-19 pandemic, so we looked at between March and May. We wanted to learn what local authorities did in order to gain learning’s for future covid-19 restrictions.”

“Online booking has been really good with systems helping to maintain social distancing”

Cathy Cook, LWARB

By transferring staff from commercial services when the workforce was down due to self-isolation, she reported that councils found they could be more resilient and had better chances of continuing to keep services going. Respondents said that even if new lockdown measures were introduced, they would seek to keep household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) open, which has largely been the case in lockdown 2.0, which was implemented this month.

Ms Cook added: “Online booking has been really good with systems helping to maintain social distancing and all respondents reported that would seek to keep them open during another lockdown which is exactly what they have done. The reopening was so problematic, so in hindsight it will be easier to just keep them open.”

Composition changes

Local authority support manager, Gemma Scott, showed findings on waste composition changes.

Ms Scott said that initial findings for Covid-19 waste composition found that there was on average one disposable face mask in household waste per week, with 89% being found in the residual waste and 11% in the recycling stream.

Total waste composition in June

Total waste arisings increased for recyclable and non-recyclable waste. Breaking it down, Ms Scott said that glass bottle arisings significantly increased, as did cardboard, which was largely in the form of online delivery boxes.

Ms Scott added: “Cardboard composition increases reflects how people were getting what they would normally get in shops online. And overall, we have seen a significant increase in the capture rate of dry mixed recycling.”


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