This is the sixth in our series of weekly update of impacts we have observed of Covid-19 in the waste sector. Ten issues are summarised, to provide a picture of what we are seeing and hearing from our perspective in the intention of providing a sector briefing, partly because we are working now more independently than ever before, and partly because this is a rapidly moving situation.

1) Testing for Frontline Workers – The government recently announced that Covid-19 testing has been extended to essential workers in England, and to any members of their households showing symptoms. Employers are able to register their workers through a digital employer portal and employees are able to self-register through a separate employee portal. Full details on accessing a test in all nations, including additional guidance and who is eligible can be found here.

2) HWRCs – Since late March, the majority of HWRCs across England have been closed and the latest ADEPT survey (28th April) shows that 98% of HWRCs remain closed. However, amid pressure from residents and concerns of fly tipping, this week has seen a number of authorities taking steps to reopen some sites. Northumberland County Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority are amongst those that have announced that their HWRCs will be operating ‘restricted services’ from this week. The highest priority remains to keep workforces and the public safe and where sites are looking to open, they will need to operate in line with police and government guidance on social distancing. Control measures implemented across the sites include limiting the number of people visiting a site at any one time will be limited and each car being restricted to one person unloading from. Where queues form, visitors may be turned away. Of note, Lancashire County Council, Blackburn and Darwen Borough Council have developed an online booking system which gives residents a timed visit slot to avoid overburdening the system.

3) Innovation at HWRCs – linked to the item above, Greater Manchester have utilised their Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems to split the potential site users into different collection days for accessing their HWRCs, by whether there is an even or odd number last on their number plate, see article, in an attempt to manage the demand on the service.

4) Impact on policy measures – This week the government announced that the Plastic Tax Consultation would be delayed until 20th August 2020. Originally the consultation period was set to end on the 20th May. However, recognising the impact that Covid-19 has had on all sectors and the priority being on delivering essential services, the extension of the consultation will allow all stakeholders more time to submit responses. As outlined in the Resources and Waste Strategy the £200/t tax would be implemented in 2022. It is unknown whether the delay in consultation period will result in a delay in implementation.

5) Textiles – Significant challenges remain within the textiles industry. On the whole, textiles production (particularly overseas in Asia and Africa) has halted, and there is therefore little cash flow within the industry causing ‘bottleneck’ points along the supply chain. From a Circular Economy perspective however, does this present an opportunity to address business models and start looking at textiles collections and consider them for reuse / remanufacture.

6) Collection services – The results of the fourth ADEPT survey, issued 28th April, shows a continuing reduction in disruption to waste services. Increased volumes of household waste and recycling are reported, continuing to apply pressure on Councils. This week, Pendle Borough Council reported that they are currently spending 22% extra per week on the waste collection service, remarking that this was not sustainable within Council budgets. Conversely commercial waste remains significantly below pre-covid-19 levels. At the time of writing 28% of garden waste services are withdrawn, although we are seeing Councils bring such services back, including Dorset, Charnwood and Havering.

7) Protecting Informal Workers - Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing & Organizing (WIEGO) are looking at mapping the impact of COVID and drafting guidelines to support informal workers in developing countries during these times. WIEGO have carried out a rapid appraisal to look at the impact of Covid on informal collectors in Brazil between March 23rd and April 8th. The results show that the pandemic is having a tremendous impact on informal collectors, making them even more vulnerable (lack of PPE, increased amount of clinical waste being disposed of). WIEGO have issued posters on how to decrease risk and virus residues.

8) A letter of thanks – Last week, Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform issued a formal thank you to those working within the Waste and Resource sector for their support during Covid-19. Within her letter, Roseanna acknowledged the challenges facing the industry and gave thanks for the commitment made by the industry to support the resilience of service provision across Scotland. The full letter can be viewed here.

9) Hazardous Waste - According to representatives of within the sector, there has been no significant changes reported in hazardous waste arisings. However, there has been a shift in terms of nature of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste from small operations has all but disappeared, where businesses have stopped trading due to staff absences or social distancing. In general, for larger-scale manufacturing, where operations continue, hazardous waste is still being generated and, in some cases, increased to cope with demand. The main challenge for the sector however relates to procuring the PPE required for the hazardous waste collections.

10) Evolving with the changing picture – Over the last few weeks, the waste industry has been praised for its ability to quickly react and adapt to the immediate impacts of Covid-19. Last week, during an ISWA Roundtable discussion, experts from across the world discussed the challenges that lie ahead. ISWA President, Antonis Mavropoulos praised the recognition that the industry has been given but remarks that the situation will continue to evolve, and the waste management will need to be reactive. At present, waste operators are prioritising kerbside collections and managing this through reduced commercial waste and street cleansing operations. However, as social distancing is relaxed and businesses return, the waste sector will have to try to understand what the ‘new normal’ will be. Over the longer term, concerns that disruption caused by Covid-19 could lead to an economic crisis. The waste management sector needs to prepare for this and establish a new way of thinking. ISWA (The International Solid Waste Association) are maintaining a knowledge platform detailing the responses made by countries and cities across the globe, which can be found here.

All articles and updates on Covid-19, and other waste / resource management and environmental services issues are included on our website

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