Rising Covid absences prompt collections concerns

Rising cases of Covid-19 have prompted concerns that council waste collections could be disrupted by staff absences.

Omicron Waste
According to the ONS, about one in 13 people across the UK had Covid-19 at the end of March (picture: Shutterstock)

Data published by the Office for National Statistics for the week ending 2 April shows the number of Covid-19 infections remains at or close to record levels in most of the UK, with only Scotland experiencing a drop.

The data, based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, shows that about one in 13 people across the UK are thought to have had Covid-19 at the time.

A recent survey conducted by LARAC, the organisation which represents local authority recycling officers and those working in similar posts, found that more than two-fifths (41%) of its members’ environmental services had been reduced by up to 20% due to staff absent with Covid-19.

However, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association representing the private waste sector, told letsrecycle.com it was not aware of any “major” disruption despite an increase in staff absences.

Councils

Several councils across the UK have begun to report issues with collection services as absences continue to increase.

Mansfield district council said that it was unable to collect some glass recycling bins (picture: Mansfield district council)

Today (11 April), the head of environmental enhancement at North Devon council, Mark Kentell, apologised to residents affected by recent missed collections.

He said: “We are currently experiencing staff shortages which are mainly due to difficulties in recruiting and availability of HGV drivers but compounded by Covid sickness levels. This is making it really hard to maintain a normal service.

“I don’t think we’ve had a full quota of staff throughout the month of March, so it’s been impossible to complete the rounds on any given day.”

Elsewhere, Birmingham city council said last week that an increase in Covid-19 cases amongst refuse collection crews means some services “may be affected”.

Barking and Dagenham London borough council reported experiencing issues with its recycling collections for several reasons, including staff being sick with Covid-19 and a national shortage of lorry drivers, which it says has affected the amount of agency workers available.

And, Mansfield district council announced that it was unable to collect some glass recycling bins “due to pressure on our services”, including staff sickness and the national driver shortage.

Covid-19

LARAC surveyed its members on staffing levels for the week between 21 and 27 March.

John Coates is LARAC’s interim CEO

The organisation found that 43% of its members were still experiencing HGV driver shortages, down from 50% during the Christmas and post-Christmas period.

However, 55% of respondents reported absences across their environmental services due to Covid-19.

John Coates, LARAC’s interim CEO, told letsrecycle.com: “Councils are still suffering the impacts of staff absences, but the emphasis has changed now.

“HGV drivers aren’t the problem – it’s general absences caused by Covid. This is increasing costs for councils and reducing service levels.”

Short-term problems

The Local Government Association (LGA), the national membership body for 328 of the 333 councils in England, told letsrecycle.com rising Covid-19 infections could cause some “short-term” problems.

Some short-term problems may arise due to Covid sickness levels
LGA spokesperson

An LGA spokesperson said: “Councils know how important waste and recycling is to their residents and have been working hard throughout the pandemic to keep these services running as best as possible.

“Councils are working hard to avoid further disruption, but some short-term problems may arise due to Covid sickness levels.

“Any changes to collection services will be communicated to residents through the regular channels.”

Absences

However, Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, told letsrecycle.com that his organisation was not aware of any “major” disruption despite staff absences increasing in recent times.

Jacob Hayler is executive director of the ESA

He said: “Our members have, in some cases, noted that Covid-related absence rates are currently high compared with recent months, but we are not aware of any major business disruption.

“On the whole, our members continue to show resilience across the services they operate and, as with much of the wider economy, have made adaptations or have mitigations in place to continue business within the UK’s current Covid footing.”

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