The UK waste sector is essential to society and operatives must urgently be classed as “key-workers”
Our essential sector is relying on the Government to ensure that frontline recycling and waste industry workers are classified as key workers, and can continue to gain access to childcare, so that they can perform their important roles.
The UK waste sector is essential to society and operatives must urgently be classed as “key-workers” if we are to avoid an unsanitary accumulation of waste in the streets of our towns and cities during this unprecedented pandemic.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA), which represents the UK’s recycling and waste management industry, has today (Thursday 19 March) called on the government to help keep vital waste services moving, as the closure of schools risks bringing the country to a halt.
Our essential sector is relying on the Government to ensure that frontline recycling and waste industry workers are classified as key workers, and can continue to gain access to childcare, so that they can perform their important roles. Having the staff available to deliver this service is the number one priority for the industry. Our sector also relies heavily on access to fuel, so it is imperative that Government views the recycling and waste management sector as a critical industry, so we can keep the wheels turning in the event of shortages.
But waste collection services are just one half of the equation and it is essential that waste processing facilities, such as energy-from-waste plants, landfill sites, recycling centres and transfer stations can also continue to operate. That is why the ESA is calling on the regulatory authorities to grant short-term flexibility around planning and permitting conditions to allow services to continue in the event of a reduced workforce, or temporary inability to access markets to keep material, like recyclables, moving.
ESA members are concerned that tight operational and technical rules around the operation of waste sites will force otherwise functioning facilities to close. For example, it might not be possible to move waste material to its normal destination, necessitating temporary storage of waste material in larger volumes than would normally be allowed. While ESA members respect these rules and will make every effort to comply with them, we need assurance from Government that temporary unavoidable infractions will not be met with penalties, otherwise essential facilities may have to close.
Furthermore, ESA members provide a large proportion of the recycling and waste management services to local councils across the UK under contract. Normally, operators might incur contractual financial penalties for not meeting agreed performance criteria, such as recycling targets. Our industry needs assurance from Government, and local authority partners, that any temporary decline in performance measures will not be penalised. ESA members will, of course, continue to provide the best level of service possible, but these are times of crisis and the sector must focus on keeping core services moving – not on meeting targets.
The ESA is in close dialogue with both Defra and the Environment Agency to raise these issues and concerns at the highest levels, and our members have been assured by Defra that it is safe for recycling and waste sector workers to continue in their normal roles, as long as they follow correct risk-assessed procedures.
The public has been asked by Defra to ensure that any waste produced in a non-medical setting, associated with a person who has symptoms of COVID-19, is double-bagged, tied securely and left inside for at least 72 hours before being placed in the bin, after which time the virus is no longer viable. This is to prevent the transmission of infection and will help to protect waste workers. Furthermore, we would urge the public not to put tissues and other sanitary items in their recycling – they should be disposed of in the general waste.