Waste companies draw up coronavirus contingency plans

UK waste management companies are working up contingency plans to ensure that they are able to continue to provide waste services and keep their operatives safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused severe disruption in the UK, with the government taking measures including shutting pubs, clubs and restaurants, encouraging people to work from home and banning outside gatherings of more than two persons, in effect a lockdown on public activity, to slow the spread of the disease.

Biffa waste collection vehcle.Waste services have already been badly affected by the outbreak, with many councils closing down Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) and reducing their waste services to protect the safety of the public and operatives.

The waste sector has been deemed a ‘key industry’ by the government, fulfilling a call made by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) on Thursday (19 March) last week. This means that waste operatives have been deemed ‘key workers’ and are exempt from government advice to stay at home.

In order to continue to provide key waste services and keep operatives safe during the lockdown, waste management companies are drawing up contingency plans to deal with eventualities such as stricter lockdown measures or mass absence of staff due to illness.

The ESA has urged workers to continue to correctly wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to follow the government advice on good hygiene practice and to promptly report any symptoms of illness.

A spokesperson for Biffa stated that the company had looked into the possibility of hiring extra staff in the event of mass absences, saying: “Our staff are classified as key workers, carrying out an essential service for the economy. We are working closely with our councils and have detailed contingency plans in place to achieve minimum disruption in this difficult time.

“In the occurrence of a shortage, we would look to use agency staff as well as utilising workers from other areas of our nationwide operations to make up any shortfalls and ensure our services run as smoothly as possible.”

A spokesperson for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK stated that it was “working to ensure continuity for the customers and local communities we serve around the UK'' and “taking every measure necessary to ensure the essential services we provide continue safely and with as little disruption as possible”.

The company is continuing to engage with both government and other organisations such as the ESA to “maintain continuity in the delivery of core services in the coming weeks”.

In light of the government’s advice that people should stay at home for all but essential trips, such as for food supplies or medical trips, SUEZ has also announced that it has closed all of its HWRCs until further notice to reduce.

Its other services are continuing to run with “minimal or no disruption” and measures have been put in place to protect the health and welfare of frontline staff, “ensuring social distancing is adhered to across all operations”.

Communication with clients throughout the crisis is seen as paramount by Viridor, with a spokesperson saying: “Viridor has robust procedures in place to review and amend its existing business continuity plans in line with government and NHS guidelines on Covid-19. We are working with staff to advise and support on best practice in line with official advice.

“Viridor is prioritising staff health and welfare, and implementing measures to reduce risks of exposure, while continuing to communicate with our clients throughout this process.”

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