Waste sector monitoring impact of Omicron variant

The waste sector is monitoring developments in case the pandemic worsens as cases of a new variant of Covid-19 are identified in the UK.

Omicron Waste
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is seen as the key reason for a rise in absences among waste and recycling workforces (picture: Shutterstock)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already spoken of the challenges posed by the variant and announced on Saturday (27 November) that face coverings will be compulsory in shops and on public transport from 4am today (Tuesday 30 November).

Senior waste and recycling figures sought to reassure the sector that they are monitoring the situation and that many of the measures which have already become commonplace should still be effective against the Omicron variant in terms of health issues and service delivery capabilities.

WISH Forum

Throughout the pandemic, the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum has regularly updated its guidance on Covid-19 and waste management activities in a document known as ‘INFO13’.

Watching brief: Chris Jones, chair of the WISH Forum

The most recent version of the document was published on 6 August (see letsrecycle.com story). Chris Jones, the WISH Forum’s chair, told letsrecycle.com that the WISH Forum believed the information contained within was still relevant (available HERE).

Mr Jones said: “WISH are aware of the new SARS-COV2 variant named ‘Omicron’ by the WHO and are maintaining a watching brief as scientific understanding of the variant is growing.

The transmission methods and risk presented by Omicron in the workplace are essentially similar to those of earlier variants

– Chris Jones, the WISH Forum’s chair

“Based on the information that we have currently, the transmission methods and risk presented by Omicron in the workplace are essentially similar to those of earlier variants.

“We, therefore, believe that the information and measures laid out in version 11 of INFO13 remain relevant.”

Pressure

The executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the waste sector’s trade association, told letsrecycle.com that the new variant was just another issue which could contribute to disrupted services in the short-term.

‘Services won’t buckle’: Jacob Hayler, executive director ESA

Jacob Hayler said: “Driver shortages, coupled with the normal winter flu season, a concerning new Covid variant and higher waste volumes over the holiday season means that recycling and waste management services are likely to be under significant pressure in the coming months.”

However, Mr Hayler stated his belief in the resilience of the sector to cope with the many challenges.

“Our sector has shown its resilience time and time again over the past two years and we remain both vigilant and well prepared to ensure, as far as possible, that services won’t buckle under this pressure.

“The ESA and its members will continue to monitor the situation closely and react as necessary.”

Adaptable

Others in the sector expressed similar sentiments. Dr Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, also expressed cautious optimism about the waste industry’s resilience.

‘New normal’: Simon Ellin, CEO of the Recycling Association

“It’s almost as if this is the new normal now and is proof of how resilient the waste industry has become,” Dr Ellin told letsrecycle.com. “In the first lockdown, we managed well and learned how to make our businesses more flexible and adaptable to these types of market changes.

“Without being complacent, of course these variants and changes to the market can impact us as an industry, but I think we have proven ourselves and are able to continue and deliver with the competence required.”

Local authorities

Throughout the pandemic, the local authority organisation ADEPT – the Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport – has conducted regular surveys analysing the impact of Covid-19 on council waste services, although it has not done published any results since March 2021 (see letsrecycle.com story).

Hannah Bartram, ADEPT’s chief operating officer, told letsrecycle.com: “ADEPT members are contributing to surveys conducted by waste sector bodies and Defra. We are also monitoring the situation through our own Waste Group and regularly share information with other government departments.”

ADEPT represents place directors from county, unitary and combined authorities, along with local enterprise partnerships, sub-national transport boards and corporate partners drawn from service sectors throughout England.

Related link
WISH INFO13 COVID-19 and waste management activities issue 11

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