South London councils burn recycling waste amidst HGV shortage

South London councils have been sending recycling waste for incineration due to the national shortage of HGV drivers.

Waste collectionCouncils in Sutton, Merton and Croydon recently stated that recycling waste collected at some blocks of flats would be sent for incineration at the Beddington plant, a result of the disruption to bin collection schedules caused by the HGV shortage.

In a statement published last week, Merton Council emphasised that the measure is a ‘last resort’, allowing the council to ‘ensure bins are still emptied and taken away.’

The three councils are part of the South London Waste Partnership, which is managed by contractor Veolia.

A spokesperson for the South London Waste Partnership said: “Since June our recycling and refuse collection crews have been working hard to minimise disruption caused by a severe nationwide shortage of HGV drivers. Despite their best efforts, collections from some properties have been taking place later than scheduled. 

“During challenging periods such as this, our collection contractor, Veolia, follows pre-agreed Business Continuity Plans to prioritise services according to the resources available, with operational decisions being made early each morning.

“Co-collecting recycling and refuse from communal flats is one of the first business continuity measures that is implemented; of all the possible things we could do, this one has the least impact on our recycling rate as unfortunately much of the recycling we collect from communal flats is contaminated (we are running several trials across the region to see what can be done to improve the quality of recycling collected from flats, but this is an industry-wide challenge).

“Implementing this measure on a temporary basis in Croydon, Merton and Sutton will help us minimise the impact on the rest of the collection service; many local councils have had to suspend services such as garden waste collections, and that is something we want to avoid if at all possible. Veolia is working hard to recruit new drivers and we hope to be able to resume normal service soon.

“Separate collections of recycling from flats will continue where resources allow, particularly with additional crews working at the weekends, so we would ask residents to continue to sort their recycling before placing it in their bins and we thank them for their understanding and continued support.”

This follows the news of Veolia’s recent recruitment drive for HGV drivers, which has seen the company offer a £1,500 bonus for drivers joining its municipal collection operations across the UK. A retention bonus of £1,500 is also being offered to existing workers, in addition to a referral scheme wherein current employees are paid £1,000 when they introduce a new driver.

The HGV shortage has developed over a period of several years, with the situation worsening within the past year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. In August, the Environmental Services Association highlighted the 15 per cent vacancy rate currently experienced by the industry for driving roles, calling on the UK Government to offer urgent relief. 

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