Rebecca Pow thanks waste industry for Covid-19 efforts

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP has thanked the waste sector for its efforts in maintaining “vital” waste services during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Pow, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for waste and resources at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), paid tribute to waste workers in a letter to the industry today (15 April), calling them “crucial to the health of our country”.

Rebecca Pow MP
Rebecca Pow MP
Pow acknowledged the great work waste operatives have carried out to “keep waste moving, maintaining the rates of black bag rubbish collection, working behind the scenes in recycling centres, treatment plants, energy recovery centres and disposal sites despite all the challenges that coronavirus brings.”

The government has implemented severe restrictions on the movement of people and operation of businesses in a bid to reduce the transmission of coronavirus, and the waste sector has experienced great disruption as a result of the restrictions and staff absences due to illness all while facing greater levels of household waste as people stay at home.

Pow wrote: “As a country we are all facing challenges and I know that you are feeling these too – staff absences, social distancing, a drop off in commercial waste and an increase in household waste. Some of you have had to take difficult decisions to furlough staff or close down your operations. But you have also responded, adapted and maintained an excellent level of service where you have been able which protects public health and is crucial in keeping our society and economy going.”

Pow thanked the sector for the “cooperative spirit” with which it has approached the crisis, sharing information with Defra on the impact of the pandemic. The minister committed the government to doing “whatever we can to help you”, pointing to guidance released on staying safe at work and prioritising waste services to ensure the key services such as residual waste collection could continue.

She added: “We have also published guidance to help local authorities prioritise waste services. We know what an excellent and crucial job is being done to keep services running, but due to the impact of the outbreak we understand the additional pressures that you are facing. Our guidance provides advice on how services can be prioritised and underlines how critical black bag household waste collections are to protect people’s health and the environment.”

Signing off the letter, Pow assured workers that they had not been forgotten by government, and that she was “enormously grateful” for their work and was “proud” of their commitment to the services they provide.

Waste sector 'grateful'

Responding to the letter, Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which represents many of the UK’s largest waste management companies, said: “We are grateful to the minister for acknowledging the tireless, but often overlooked, work of recycling and waste sector workers who continue to provide a vital public service during this crisis. Through their efforts, ESA members have been able to maintain good service levels in the face of unprecedented challenges.

"As the minister acknowledges, some operators and SMEs have already had to make difficult decisions about operations and staffing, so it is imperative that government provides them with access to the financial support they need to see them through this crisis too. The ESA will continue to work closely with Defra and other government departments to ensure waste services keep moving effectively until this disease is overcome.” 

Robbie Staniforth, Head of Policy at compliance company Ecosurety, added: “We would like to echo the minister’s comments by also paying tribute to frontline staff. Key workers in both the public and private sector have done an exceptional job over the last month to ensure material continues to be collected and recycled. We have also been impressed by the government’s engagement with industry to date. We will continue to monitor the impact on recycling closely and feed the information into Defra, the devolved administrations and regulators. It will take some time before we know the full impact that this period will have on the ability for businesses to comply with producer responsibility laws. However, it is particularly encouraging to see the efforts local authorities and contractors are putting into maintaining household recycling collections. ”

You can read the full letter from Pow on the government's website.

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