Defra urges councils to reopen HWRCs

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has urged local authorities to keep their Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) open during the Covid-19 outbreak to allow people to dispose of their bulky waste.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused disruption to waste services across the country, particularly HWRCs, with around 90 per cent of councils closing their HWRCs in response to government advice on social distancing and staffing issues caused by the pandemic.

However, Defra’s press office yesterday (14 April) released advice to local authorities calling on them to open HWRCs as news reports claim fly-tipping is increasing as a result of their closure – an Association of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) Covid-19 waste impacts survey published yesterday showed that 51 per cent of councils had seen an increase in fly-tipping as a result of the pandemic.

Man disposing of waste at HWRCThe Defra advice stated that it is now ‘encouraging councils to keep their HWRCs open to ensure that bulky waste can continue to be disposed of, but only if social distancing guidelines can be adhered to on site’.

This goes further than guidance released by Defra on 7 April for local authorities on prioritising waste collections, which said that HWRCs were a medium priority service and councils should ‘consider whether priority sites can be maintained with restricted access’ and that communications should make it ‘clear that residents should not leave home except for essentials and ensure social distancing is maintained on sites’.

The latest advice from Defra implies that some trips to HWRCs should now be considered ‘essential’, stating: ‘If a local HWRC is open, then as per the laws and guidance currently in place, members of the public should only take their waste to a HWRC if the journey is ‘essential’, i.e. because the build-up of waste in the home may pose a risk of injury or to health.’

Where services such as HWRCs are not available, residents are being advised to hold onto their waste until such time as they are able to dispose of it through the proper routes.

Last week’s advice caused some confusion among local authorities, who had reported difficulties complying with social distancing at HWRCs before their mass closure in response to the crisis, with additional staffing required at some sites to enable compliance with such measures.

Lee Marshall, CEO of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), stated: "We acknowledge that the closure of HWRCs is causing problems for other parts of the industry, but we need the government to look at how they can be supported in other ways. If you consider the public health duties local authorities have, kerbside collections are a safer way of maintaining social distancing and ensuring suitable provision of waste services to residents than a major reopening of HWRCs.”

Fly-tipping fines

In addition to the call to reopen HWRCs, the Defra advice reminded that anyone caught dumping waste illegally would be liable to a £400 Fixed Penalty Notice, with the Environment Agency (EA) and councils having the power to stop and search vehicles suspected of illegally transporting waste and committing fly-tipping.

Residents are responsible for their waste if it is illegally dumped by an unlicensed waste operator, even if they did not actively do the fly-tipping. Householders unsure of whether a waste operator is licensed to collect waste can check their permit on the EA’s website.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Fly-tipping blights communities, spoils our countryside, and poses a risk to human health and the environment. We all have a role to play in keeping our environment clean and now more than ever people must work together to support their communities during this challenging time.”

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