Councils report large increases in waste during Covid-19 outbreak

Local authorities have reported large increases in household waste arisings during the Covid-19 outbreak and huge falls in commercial waste arisings, according to the results of the latest Association of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) Covid-19 waste impacts survey.

The second version of the survey, launched on 31 March, covers the week commencing 6 April and is based on responses from more than 250 Waste Collection Authorities (WCAs) and Waste Disposal Authorities (WDAs) local authorities across England.

Changes in household waste arisingsWith a large number of people staying at home due to lockdown measures introduced by the government, the amount of waste people are throwing out has vastly increased. According to the survey, 81 per cent of councils have seen an increase in residual waste arisings, and 76 per cent of councils have seen an increase in the amount of dry recycling generated by households where those services are still in place, with 32 per cent and 28 per cent seeing increases of 20-50 per cent in respective waste streams. 

Meanwhile, 65 per cent of councils have reported an increase in the amount of food waste collected and 68 per cent of councils have seen increases in garden waste tonnages collected.

Commercial waste arisings have plummeted, however, with 39 per cent of councils experiencing decreases of 50-100 per cent, and 35 per cent of councils experiencing decreases of 20-50 per cent as pubs, shops, cinemas and other businesses have been forced to close their doors.

Return to normality?

Despite the increases in households waste arisings, 99 per cent of residual waste collections and 98 per cent of dry recycling collections are continuing no disruption or only minor disruption, with an increase in councils experiencing no disruption from the previous survey.

Collections of food and garden waste are beginning to show signs of improvement, though disruption remains. 48 per cent of garden waste collections and 71 per cent of food waste collections are operating normally against 41 and 68 per cent last week, while only 28 per cent of council garden waste collections remain suspended against 38 per cent the week before.

Waste collection disruption caused by Covid-19 (Week c/ 6 April).
Waste collection disruption caused by Covid-19 (Week c/ 6 April).

However, bulky waste collections remain badly hit, with 57 per cent suspended and 12 per cent experiencing severe disruption, and just 18 per cent operating normally. Meanwhile, streets sweeping and litter clearance services have been severely affected, with only 32 per cent operating normally.

Staff absence remains the main reason for waste service disruption, with 109 WCAs and 46 WDAs citing staff absence due to sickness and 149 WCAs and 72 WDAs citing staff absence due to isolation as reasons for disruption.

Staff absence levels remain largely the same with 60 per cent of councils experiencing a less than 20 per cent reduction, up from 58 per cent last week, and councils experiencing a 20 to 40 per cent reduction staying steady at 32 per cent.

Speaking on behalf of the key networks involved in the survey – the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), the Local Government Association (LGA) and the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) – Ian Fielding, Chair of ADEPT’s Waste Group said: “I am grateful to all the local authorities who took the time to complete the survey. The emerging picture for waste services is encouraging, particularly as we can see slightly less impact on collections despite local authorities continuing to suffer high levels of absence and having more household waste and recycling to manage.”

Fly-tipping on the increase

The majority of waste disposal operations, such as energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities, Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) and Waste Transfer Stations are operating normally, while open windrow and in-vessel composting (IVC) facilities and anaerobic digestion (AD) operations have experienced strong recoveries.

However, 90 per cent of Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) are now closed due to social distancing concerns, despite guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that HWRCs should be a medium priority for local authorities.

Fly-tipping incidents have also increased in 51 per cent of councils, with some form of disruption to fly-tipping clearance services experienced in 39 per cent of councils. It is feared that householders are turning to unlicensed waste operators to remove bulky waste where bulky waste services have been reduced.

Fielding added: “It is disappointing to see an increase in fly-tipping, although this is by no means universal and fly-tipping clearance services are running almost as normal. We would encourage householders to check that anyone offering to remove their bulky waste is licensed to do so.”

ADEPT advises householders unsure of whether a waste operator is licensed to collect waste to check their permit on the Environment Agency’s website.

You can view the full results of the ADEPT Covid-19 waste impacts survey on the ADEPT website.

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