Wave of disruption hits waste services

A national shortage of staff partly due to self-isolation requirements is causing a wave of disruption to the waste and recycling sector, with some authorities and contractors having to make difficult decisions around service delivery.

Many green waste collections have been disrupted amid the shortage

A string of councils across the country have warned that collection services will be disrupted in the coming weeks, with many saying there is “no quick fix”.

Derbyshire Dales district council warned last week that the staffing shortage it faces is “as acute” as it was in the early days of the pandemic when it was forced to stop some collections to focus on residual waste (see letsrecycle.com story).

It warned that there was a shortage of around 70,000 HGV drivers across the country, with other councils across the country reporting similar problems.

Green waste

While disruptions are occurring across a range of council services, a large number of green waste collections are being halted as the shortage becomes more acute, mixed with rising numbers of Covid-related absences.

Media reports from across England tell of disruption to services.

Bristol Waste announced on Twitter that green waste services will stop across the city for ten weeks as it is operates with a significant reduction of drivers.

Coventry, Reading and Liverpool councils have followed suit, with announcements that green waste collections will be suspended for a fortnight.

Chichester and Copeland have also reported disruptions to the service.

‘Live issue’

There are reports of challenges affecting waste collection companies across the board.

One waste management company FCC Environment commented that while the driver shortage remains a “live issue”, it is ensuring services are delivered by remaining adaptable.

“We are concerned that this will only become more acute in the coming weeks as all lockdown measures come to an end,” – Steve Longdon, FCC

Operations director Steve Longdon said: “We are working closely with our clients at a local level to ensure services are delivered but we are having to remain adaptable and review this on an almost daily basis.

“In this respect we are grateful for the flexibility, experience and commitment of our staff, some of whom have had to step back into driving roles to ensure services are delivered.

“As a sector we have been historically reliant on agency staff but even this route is problematic for us as agencies are also facing the same challenges. We are concerned that this will only become more acute in the coming weeks as all lockdown measures come to an end and large scale event venues restart requiring a range of staff”.

‘Holistic approach’

Meanwhile, in a statement given to letsrecycle.com, SUEZ UK said that government support needs to take a “holistic” approach to support essential services amid the shortage of workers.

Adam Read of SUEZ said the government needs to take a “holistic approach”

Adam Read, external affairs director for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, explained that while it remains a concern, the industry is “well versed” in managing the impact of service disruption.

He continued: “We’ve learnt lessons from lockdown one and have a clear hierarchy to ensure that the essential services that protect public health are maintained. Whilst we’ve seen some limited disruption to household collections to date, we have largely managed to cover any shortfalls in drivers through contingencies such as overtime and weekend catch ups but this isn’t sustainable long-term.”

He warned that without more staff, the sector will not be able to continue to deliver the “full range of services” needed to support requirements the upcoming government reforms, such as consistency in recycling collections.

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