Waste sector facing worker pressure from retail

Pay rates and opportunities to work in other sectors such as retail and leisure are hitting the recruitment of crews and drivers as well as other workers in the waste sector, sector experts have warned.

The challenge to attract workers is adding to the difficulties already faced through workers self-isolating as a result of the pandemic, waste sector firms have told letsrecycle.com.

And recruitment specialist Matthew Spaul, managing director of the environmental support services division for recruitment company Smart Solutions, explained that the issue isn’t just related to drivers and can’t be put down to one specific issue.

Working in retail or leisure is said to be proving more attractive than handling bins

He said: “It is roles across the board of the waste and recycling sector. It’s all very focused on drivers at the moment, but cracks are appearing across the whole workforce.

“It is a perfect storm. You can’t say what’s down to Brexit or the pandemic. All we know is that the problem is getting worse and as more industry comes online and things open up, the labour market is becoming tighter and tighter.”


Mr Spaul added that Smart Solutions is working to make roles in the recycling sector more attractive, as more potentially appealing opportunities arise elsewhere in the country.

“Cracks are appearing across the whole workforce”

Matthew Spaul, Smart Solutions

He commented: “We managed to retain our workforce throughout the pandemic, but the issue we have now is that a lot of the sectors, such as hospitality and retail, who did furlough their workers, have seen a lot of eastern European workers leave.

“There are tens of thousands vacancies all over the country, and those in waste and recycling roles have now got more opportunities. Do they want to be a picker in a MRF, or a bin lorry driver, or do you want to go into retail? There are opportunities that are better conditions and better pay in general.

“The conversations we are having with our clients, is we’ve got to make the jobs more attractive. We have to make the facilities better. We have implemented a benchmark pay as well.”

Mr Spaul said that it means MRFs are facing pressures of potentially having to reduce throughput, as shortages continue coupled with rising Covid cases and self-isolations.

Pay rates

One expert in the materials recycling sector told letsrecycle.com: “The real problem is pay at the moment as well as the attraction of the waste sector. No matter what you say it is still a mucky and hard business for those at the front end. I think particularly with the younger generation, they may well look to find jobs in other areas and at the moment there are vacancies in leisure and retail.”

“Increasing hourly pay can swiftly knock returns on contracts”

Sector expert

He added: “This is an issue for contractors working for local authorities as increasing hourly pay can swiftly knock returns on contracts which are often on quite tight margins.”

Another employer in the organics sector in eastern England reflected that it can be hard to recruit because pay rates are not high and these are hard to raise too much faced with tight margins. He added: “We also find some young people just don’t want to come to work for us and in some cases this relates to losing benefits.”


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