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Provides guidance on the relative prioritisation of waste and recycling services from households and non-domestic premises during the coronavirus outbreak.

First published:
14 April 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

This paper provides non-statutory guidance on the relative prioritisation of waste and recycling services from households and non-domestic premises in Wales, should there be a need to alter services to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. As such, it is intended as a guide to help Local Authorities and other waste collection services to prioritise their waste collection services during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been developed with input from Local Authorities and the waste industry and is designed to support decision making on any changes that are required in order to respond to local circumstances.

Modern waste and recycling collection and management services have evolved fundamentally to protect human health, to service our economy, and to reduce environmental impacts. As a key service, the collection of waste and recycling should be maintained as far as possible in order to prevent any buildup of waste that could be harmful to local amenity and public health; to safeguard important flows of material; and, in line with our commitment as a nation to recycle as much of our unavoidable waste as possible and to taking action on the climate emergency.

This guidance is however introduced on a temporary basis, recognising that for the duration of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes to services may be necessary in order to protect the health of the public and workers in the sector. The contents of this guidance may also be subject to change in light of the latest advice on COVID-19.

Key principles

In considering the priorities and contingency steps that may be required in order to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on waste services, the following key principles have been identified as a basis for planning decisions, in addition to the principles and duties enshrined in legislation:

  • protection of human health (including the workforce collecting and processing waste material) and the environment from the adverse consequences of waste not managed effectively - in line with the scientific assessment of the risks and health advice on the approaches that support the controlling of the spread of COVID-19
  • social equity – ensuring that proper account is taken of those needing support and those householders with limited storage capacity at their dwellings
  • waste hierarchy – in priority order: reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery, landfill, unless over-ridden by the need to protect human health and the environment
  • resilience – ensure a diverse range of facilities continue to operate, to provide resilience if key services are impacted or close down
  • preservation where possible of the flow of material to businesses that use recyclate and waste to derive renewable energy (eg. anaerobic digestion and biomass)

Waste streams

The following list sets out a comparative prioritisation guide for the collection service for each waste stream, to aid decision making where the impact of COVID-19 necessitates a reduction in service provision.

A lower prioritisation identifies those services that should first be considered for a reduced or temporary pausing of the service. This reflects a number of considerations, including the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on the public, the feasibility of reducing the service, the health and environmental risks and the wider implications, for example to national infrastructure.

Household waste

 
Service component / waste stream Priority & rationale Mitigation Consequences of pausing the service
Food waste (collected separately weekly across Wales)

HIGH – putrescible and attractive to flies and vermin. Easier to maintain food waste collections than other services due to crew numbers per vehicle being lower.

Potentially greater quantities will be produced with more people working from home, including home schooling of children, or if ‘panic bought’ perishable food goes off.

Conversely people may be more frugal with leftovers, resulting in less food waste. This needs monitoring to elicit trends. 

But if collected separately it is a smaller volume to manage overall than residual waste, putting less pressure on collections and critical infrastructure.

Maintain weekly collection as far as possible. Move to fortnightly in extreme circumstances.

This could result in the closure of the anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in Wales. This will significantly reduce the resilience of Wales’ waste infrastructure, and will reduce the production of renewable energy. It takes an AD plant between 4-6 weeks to recommission.

Diverting food waste to AD helps reduce methane emissions (a powerful greenhouse gas).

If food waste is no longer collected separately it would have to be collected weekly or fortnightly with the residual (black bag) waste and increased residual levels will have an impact on the residual treatment capacity’s ability to cope.

It may be hard to get householders back on board with food waste collection if paused and then re-started later.

Nappy/AHP (collected separately weekly or fortnightly for some, otherwise in the residual – and collected every 2, 3 or 4 weeks depending on the LA) HIGH/MEDIUM – odorous and a potential health hazard. Needs regular collection Maintain current collection. If weekly, a move to fortnightly may be necessary to deal with resourcing pressures.

If nappy/AHP waste is no longer collected separately it would have to be collected in the residual (black bag) collections. 

There are Wales based companies relying on AHP to keep their operations going.

Clinical wastes from households- orange bag collections. HIGH - This waste stream is likely to increase significantly as a result more people being treated at home rather than in hospital. Maintain weekly collection. Move to fortnightly in extreme circumstances. A significant health risk if separate collections cease.
Dry recyclables collections (collected either weekly, or every two weeks, either co-mingled, or separately; collected either in wheeled bins, boxes, reusable bags or single use bags) MEDIUM – Low risk of odour or health issues as long as the materials are clean and don’t have significant food residues. Can be potentially stored at home for a longer period if collection frequency reduced, but that will not be possible in some dwelling types.

Maintain current collection frequency as far as possible.

If necessary move to fortnightly collection. Emphasise the need to remove any food contamination and, if possible, store single use bags (if used) in a dustbin until put out for collection.

More people and children based at home will see more recyclable material being produced.

Build up will cause problems at some households, especially small dwellings.

Recyclate is an important source of raw materials for manufacturing, including new packaging, and if removed supply chain issues may occur, including for critical products – e.g. food packaging.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to separately collect waste paper, metal, plastic and glass where technically, economically and environmentally practicable.

Consequences will vary, particularly for LAs using RRVs for source separated collections, which will have a knock on impact on food waste collections.

Householders may be  slow to revert to recycling if collections are interrupted for a significant length of time.

Garden waste MEDIUM  - There is a potential fire and associated air quality risk if more garden bonfires result from a pausing in the service.  Move to monthly or temporarily pause the service – encourage home composting and creation of garden wildlife havens.

Potential risk that more garden bonfires will increase fire risk and pollution. Potential risk of fly-tipping of garden waste.

Removing garden waste collections has the potential to increase residual collections substantially particularly given the time of year and householders with lots of available time.
Residual refuse collection

MEDIUM/HIGH - Potentially greater quantities will be produced with more people working from home, including home schooling of children.

Where current service is fortnightly, if necessary, consider reducing the frequency of residual collections as Wales benefits from universal household food waste collection to deal with putrescible waste and some areas also benefit from separate AHP collection

Re-emphasise to householders the need to use the separate weekly food waste collection service, and separate AHP/nappy service (where in place). 

LAs may also wish to relax the restrictions on side waste restrictions to accommodate any increases in volume. 

This service needs to be maintained, albeit at an extended frequency, because of the risk of fly-tipping and to collect any putrescible waste not put out with the food waste collection, and high-volume composite/non-recyclable waste which might present storage and health risks and local amenity impacts.

Assisted collections HIGH - Ensures householders with difficulties in putting out their waste will continue to have their waste collected. Ensure assisted collections are maintained (if necessary prioritise collections of food waste). Householders with difficulties unable to present waste for collection.
Bulky items (furniture, fridges) LOW – a low risk waste stream. Potential to reduce frequency, contract out to social enterprises or consider pausing this service.

Risk of increased levels of fly-tipping.

Alongside the closure of HWRCs, a risk that some households with limited storage capacity may be unable to dispose of old/faulty items when replacing them.
Household Waste Recycling centres (HWRC) / civic amenity (CA) sites LOW  – Most of the wastes taken to these sites can be stored at home. However, some householders have limited storage or may need to dispose of hazardous household waste or may have redundant equipment they cannot store at home.

Reduce (in number or time of opening) or temporarily close access in order to support resilience of other services.

Loss of secondary raw materials for businesses. Loss of waste electrical  and electronic equipment for WEEE treatment facilities.

Inability for householders to dispose of problematic hazardous household waste or white goods.

Potential for increased fly-tipping or use of illegal waste sites especially if other collections fail. 

Potential fire and air pollution risks associated with burning of garden waste at home (if garden waste collection is also paused), and of fly-tipped material.

Local authorities have a duty to provide places for residents to deposit their household waste at all reasonable times.
Bring sites – eg. recycling banks in car parks MEDIUM – particularly those located in areas like supermarket or town centre car parks to allow people to drop off items as part of essential shopping trips.  Low risk in terms of harm to health and the environment unless overflowing and people leave recyclables next to them, with attendant litter, fire and disamenity risks. Maintain if possible, especially if normally heavily used.

Loss of secondary raw materials for businesses.

May be used more than usual if kerbside recyclate collections reduce or cease. There might be a build-up of recycling materials and other waste outside the containers. Depending on the composition of this waste, there could be a health, litter, fire and/or disamenity risk.

Street cleansing / litter bins / flytipped waste

 
Service component / waste stream Priority & rationale Mitigation Consequences of pausing the service
Street cleansing MEDIUM/LOW - Fewer people in busy shopping areas so expect limited build up in short term. Priority to specific problem areas. Reduce frequency. Focus on problem areas only. Risk of damage to health, wildlife and amenity if street litter builds up.
Road sweepings MEDIUM/LOW - Fewer cars on the road and fewer people walking on pavements. Also very little leaf fall at this time of year. Priority to specific problem areas. Continue as normal if possible. Otherwise  focus only on roads/streets known to cause flooding problems. Risk of damage to health, wildlife and amenity if road litter builds up. Might block drains and exacerbate flooding during heavy rainfall.
Dog excrement bins MEDIUM/HIGH – A potential health issue. Continue as normal for heavily used areas as more people may be walking their dogs.

A significant health and disamenity risk if left unemptied.

Pet waste could end being put in normal litter bins by people walking their dogs.

Litter bins MEDIUM/HIGH  - Likely to be less used given far fewer people are out and about. But there is a risk that some people may put household waste bags in the litter bins. Also they may be used more by the greater number of people walking their dogs. Seal up or reduce frequency of emptying (e.g. in town centres which are now less used) or focus on more heavily used areas.

Risk of fire and/or damage to health, wildlife and amenity if street litterbins overflow.

Flytipping HIGH/MEDIUM – increase in flytipping may be seen as a result of other service changes.    

Continue as normal if possible. Otherwise  focus available resources on known hotspots.

Communicate penalties for flytipping.

Significant risk of fire and/or damage to health, wildlife and amenity.

Gully emptying MEDIUM – With priority given to roads/streets known to cause flooding problems Continue as normal if possible. Otherwise  focus only on roads/streets known to cause flooding problems. Likely to block road drains and exacerbate flooding during heavy rainfall.

 

Commercial and industrial waste (from businesses and public sector bodies) collected by Local Authorities and private waste companies.

 
Service component / waste stream Priority & rationale Mitigation Consequences of pausing the service
Food waste HIGH – putrescible and attractive to flies and vermin. Quantities likely to decrease from some premises as a result of the closure of many catering businesses and public sector premises. But agricultural and food manufacturing plants normally supplying to the catering sector may have increased wastage if they cannot supply instead to retail.

Maintain current collection frequency as far as possible.

Redistribute surplus food from the catering supply chain to retail or charities providing food for those in food poverty.

If food waste is no longer collected separately it will need to be collected with the residual waste.

This may impact on the operational viability of some of the anaerobic digestion plants in Wales. This would significantly reduce the resilience of Wales’ waste infrastructure, and will reduce the production of renewable energy. It takes an AD plant between 4-6 weeks to recommission.

Dry recyclables MEDIUM – Low risk of odour or health issues as long as the materials are clean and don’t have significant food residues. Can be stored longer on premises if collection frequency reduced. Quantities likely to decrease as a result of the closure of many business and public sector premises. Maintain current collection frequency as far as possible, or reduce if necessary.

Recyclate is an important source of raw materials for manufacturing, including new packaging, and if removed supply chain issues may occur, including for critical products – e.g. food packaging.

Waste companies have a statutory duty to separately collect waste paper, metal, plastic and glass where technically, economically and environmentally practicable.
AHP/sanitary waste – from toilet areas HIGH – Risk from infection and odours. Maintain current collection frequency as far as possible, or reduce if fewer staff are working in the buildings. A significant health risk if separate collections cease.
Residual refuse

MEDIUM – If it doesn’t contain a high proportion of food waste.

HIGH – If it contains a high proportion of food waste. Putrescible and attractive to flies and vermin. Quantities likely to decrease as a result of the closure of many business and public sector premises.
Maintain current collection frequency as far as possible, or reduce if fewer staff are working in the buildings, and the proportion of food waste is lower. Significant risk of damage to health, wildlife and amenity if residual refuse builds up outside business premises.
Care homes (residential and nursing homes) HIGH – Likely to have large quantities of AHP waste and clinical waste. Need to control risk of spreading infection especially in care home setting

Prioritise collections.

Sub-contract clinical waste specialists.

Manage PPE as residual waste according to PHE guidance on residential care.

Clinical waste needs to be managed to prevent infections.

PHE guidelines should be followed when managing potentially contaminated waste.
Hospitals – clinical waste HIGHEST – Will have large quantities of infectious clinical waste, and other challenging waste streams – eg. AHPs.  

Clinical waste needs to be managed to prevent infections.

Hazardous waste HIGHEST – High potential for harm to human health or the environment. Hazardous waste operating business cannot operate if the collection service ceases. Prioritise collections. Significant risk to human health and the environment. Facilities will have to close down.
Construction / building sites –hazardous waste HIGH – e.g. where asbestos is being removed or contaminated soil excavated on site.

The hazardous waste should either be collected or contained on site in a safe manor with no risk to human health or the environment.

If necessary, stop demolition of sites containing asbestos and stop excavation of contaminated soil, unless necessary to prevent immediate pollution or harm to human health.
Any asbestos removed from buildings or excavated contaminated soil if left on site and not properly contained will result in harm to human health and the environment.
Construction / building sites – no hazardous waste LOW – Produces relatively low risk wastes that are normally collected in skips.    Wastes can be stored on site until they can be collected. Quantities likely to decrease as a result of the closure of many construction sites.

Many sites can store their wastes for a period of time.

 

Note, there may be a need to include other business sector specific waste streams as issues emerge, including interruptions to supply chains.

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