Contingency plans to deal with waste are being put in place by waste management companies and local authorities in light of the growing coronavirus crisis.
Measures such as minimising travel, reducing bin collection frequencies and bringing in agency staff have been mooted.
The government is holding an emergency Cobra meeting today (12 March) to discuss its next steps.
However, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler is bullish in his defiance of the virus and emphasised his belief in the resilience of the waste management industry.
He said: “Fortunately, our sector is a resilient one and has demonstrated time and time again that it can keep our homes and streets clear of waste, even in the event of significant disruption – taking flooding as one such recent example.
“Typically, operators will already have contingency plans in place with public sector and major private sector customers to ensure continuity of service.
“In the event off significant staff shortages, operators are likely to re-deploy resources, bring in agency personnel and re-schedule collections to prioritise based on need, among other options, to avoid an unsanitary build-up of waste.”
Concerns, such as those expressed by councillor Jonathan Davies of Penrith town council below, had been raised as to the safety of collection crews.
Intresting item your waste should be double bagged and will be collected separately? By who and how will it be disposed of as hazardous waste.
Most councils now use bins not bags also.
Have local councils a plan for this seperate #coronavirus hazardous waste? https://t.co/xRrmuQW6Wp
— Cllr Jonathan Davies #PuttingCumbriaFirst (@disruptordavies) February 27, 2020
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils are aware that residents will have concerns for vulnerable family and friends if this virus spreads further.
“They have plans in place for every possible scenario, for example if large numbers of key workers are off sick at one time or schools are closed, or if extraordinary containment or delay measures are recommended by the government.
“This includes looking at how they could best use their staff and mobilise resources to continue supporting the most vulnerable and mitigate against the inevitable disruption to other important services, such as bin collections and street cleaning.”
However, with infection control measures such as the wearing of gloves in place as standard for all crews, the risk of infection for anyone collecting refuse is thought to be small, a waste sector expert told letsrecycle.com. It is thought to be far more likely the virus may be passed on at depots or in offices than during the collection of waste.
And contingency plans have been put in place by councils to protect crew members.
Letsrecycle.com was told routine infection prevention control measures used by bin workers will protect them from catching the virus on their rounds, but if the coronavirus continues to spread councils might have to look at less frequent bin collections or prioritising certain routes or areas and will be in close communication with residents about this.
Advice on how to deal with any potentially infectious waste for those self-isolating has been issued by Defra (see letsrecycle.com story).
Waste management companies have been quick to reassure employees and the public at large that plans are in place to protect people from infection.
John Scanlon, CEO for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “We have been closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and having reviewed guidance from Public Health England and our parent company, SUEZ group, we have already taken steps to help prevent and reduce the risk of the virus, to safeguard the wellbeing of our staff and ensure business continuity in the event of an epidemic here in the UK.
“These include supporting staff with advice on hygiene and handling of potentially infectious material, restricting travel and minimising the need for large meetings and events.
“We’ve written to customers with our business continuity policy and are developing more detailed local level continuity plans that will assess and assure our preparedness for a range of potential scenarios.”
These sentiments were echoed by Viridor.
“Viridor has robust procedures in place”
A Viridor spokesperson said: “Viridor has robust procedures in place to review and amend its existing business continuity plans in line with government and NHS guidelines on COVID-19.
“We are working with staff to advise and support on best practice in line with official advice. Viridor is prioritising staff health and welfare, and implementing measures to reduce risks of exposure, while continuing to communicate with our clients throughout this process.”
Local authorities, such as the Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority (MRWA), have been liaising with contractors as they attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
Carl Beer, chief executive of MRWA, told letsrecycle.com: “MRWA are closely monitoring the rapidly moving situation in regards of the spread of coronavirus and its potential impact on waste management services in the Liverpool city region.
“Both of our two main waste management contracts have contingency plans in place, and we are working both with the contractors and our district council waste collection authorities to ensure that we respond in the most appropriate manner to the quickly changing and unique circumstances.
“Regarding the operations of our own organisation, we have a business continuity plan in place which outlines procedures to continue our service as best we can. We will also continue to follow and apply any government advice.”
RDf specialists Andusia also released a statement today saying it has “implemented contingency measures in the event of a UK ‘lock down”.
“Should we need to self-isolate, staff will work remotely from home and will deal with your enquires via email and dedicated mobile phone lines,” a statement said.
It added: “In the meantime, Andusia will continue to operate as normal and services remain uninterrupted. We don’t anticipate any change in service however Andusia are monitoring the situation closely and will update customers should anything change.”