Councils urge residents to only visit HWRCs if ‘essential’

Councils have had to remind residents what counts as essential waste as long queues form at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) which began to reopen across England this week.

This week has seen numerous councils begin to reopen the doors to their recycling centres to allow residents to dispose of built up waste in a proper manner – reports claim that fly-tipping has increased by 300 per cent since the start of lockdown.

Councils urge residents to only visit HWRCs if ‘essential’The vast majority of local authorities have closed their HWRCs due to the Covid-19 pandemic – a local authority survey revealed that 98 per cent of more than 250 respondents had closed their sites at the end of April – due to lockdown and social distancing measures.

Local authorities have repeatedly been urged to reopen their HWRCs by the government; Covid-19 lockdown measures remain in place last week (5 May) after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick had stated that he would be asking councils to reopen their HWRCs in the coming weeks.

Long queues of more than two hours have been reported as forming outside HWRCs across Hertfordshire, which reopened 10 of its HWRCs on Monday (11 May), while excessive queues have also been reported across the south of England, including in Bournemouth and Southampton, where cars had to be turned away due to the number of cars waiting, and Manchester.

Councils have taken to social media to remind residents to only make the trip to HWRCs if their visit is ‘essential’ – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set out the rationale for reopening HWRCs last week, stating trips were only essential if waste could not be stored safely at home.

Hertfordshire County Council tweeted "please only visit if it's essential, and check the live information on queues on our website before you set off”, while Cllr Denise Jeffrey of Wakefield Council asked for visitors to be “patient and considerate” when visiting sites.

Recycle for Greater Manchester reminded residents to “only visit if you really need to”, while Nottinghamshire County Council said residents should only visit a HWRC if “absolutely essential” – that means only paying a trip if the waste isn’t safe to be stored at home for the time being”.

Social distancing measures

Most HWRCs are operating with traffic management systems to restrict the number of cars entering the site to facilitate social distancing and attempt to prevent huge buildups.

Somerset, which reopened 11 of its 16 HWRCs on Monday using an odd/even registration plate system, has not seen an excess of cars arriving at sites.

Other councils are implementing booking systems, such as Isle of Wight, which allowed residents to book a visit to its Lynbottom HWRC that reopened on Monday to limit the number of visitors on site.

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has reopened six of its reuse and recycling centres (RRCs) with visitors needing to book a slot before they arrive, with Councillor Clyde Loakes, Chair of NLWA, urging people to only make the trip if necessary: “All of the reopened sites will be operating a booking system. Please be responsible – don’t go to an RRC unless you absolutely need to. We know it’s inconvenient, we know you want rid of these items, but if you can hang on to those items for a bit longer, we can all make sure that someone who really needs to use an RRC can do so.”

However, this has not run smoothly everywhere. Lincolnshire County Council's booking system crashed within an hour of its launch as residents scrambled to book one of the 39,000 time slots for visiting one of the county’s 11 HWRCs set to reopen on 18 May.

Some councils have taken to technology to prevent queues, with Swindon and councils across Somerset running live web cams so that residents can see whether sites are experiencing heavy traffic.

Once visitors reach a HWRC, they are finding that what they can deposit is limited, while strict rules on social distancing apply. Surrey’s HWRCs are only accepting black bag residual waste and garden waste during its first phase, before reviewing the situation over the coming month when it hopes HWRCs will be able to accept more materials.

While many sites are experiencing heavy traffic, Gloucestershire’s HWRCs have received positive feedback from visitors and staff. Wayne Lewis, Head of Gloucestershire Joint waste Team at Gloucestershire County Council took to LinkedIn to say: “Some Gloucestershire HRCs [sic] reopened this week, with a new booking system to support social distancing. Feedback from customers is positive; they are enjoying the extra space and shorter queues.

“Site staff say that recycling performance might improve as they are more able to interact (from a safe distance) with customers. Wondering if pre-booking a trip to the HRC [sic] could become a longer term norm?”

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