Many waste services under strain – local authorities publish 19th report into impact of COVID-19

Waste services across the country are continuing to feel the impacts of COVID-19. That is the message from the 19th Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) 19th waste impacts report.

Run in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), the Local Government Association (LGA) and the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO), the survey examines the impacts of COVID-19 on waste services in England.

This survey was undertaken the week beginning 1st March and shows the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on services. Collection services are being affected by staff absences, with 44% of responding authorities reporting absence due to self-isolation, and 31% due to sickness. Social distancing measures are also reducing collection teams’ capacity, with 38% of responding councils identifying this as a reason for disruption.

Food waste collections are the worst hit, with 35% of collection authorities reporting problems. 21% reported minor disruption to core refuse collection services and 23% have reported minor or moderate disruption to core recycling collections. Conversely, garden and bulky waste collection service provision has improved significantly over the previous period (w/c 15th February).

There has been a big increase in reported disruption to Household Waste Recycling Centre service provision, with only 31% of councils reporting this service to be operating normally. The main reason given is the impact of social distancing requirements limiting site capacity, although the good weather in the latest survey period meant a big increase in demand.

The survey also reports on changes in waste arisings over the past year. Some waste streams such as bulky and garden wastes clearly saw a temporary drop-off during the first lockdown when collection services were most heavily disrupted. However, there are more sustained changes too, with councils reporting residual (black bag) waste, recycling, food and now garden waste tonnages consistently higher than pre-Covid.

Speaking on behalf of these key networks Steve Palfrey Chair of ADEPT’s Waste Group said: “Waste services continue to experience levels of disruption mostly due to the impacts of staff absence, whether through sickness or self-isolation.

“The fact that the volume of domestic waste and recycling has increased significantly almost certainly reflects the shift in workplace pattern, with many more people consistently working from home over the past year. This is borne out by a corresponding reduction in commercial waste, reflecting the impacts of lockdowns and social distancing requirements on business premises.

“Again, I would like to thank our teams for working so hard through such a lengthy lockdown period to maintain services despite such difficult circumstances.”

The results of all waste surveys are available on the ADEPT website: