Contingency plans to deal with waste are being put in place by waste management companies and local authorities in light of the growing coronavirus crisis.
Measures such as minimising travel, reducing bin collection frequencies and bringing in agency staff have been mooted.
The government was holding an emergency Cobra meeting yesterday (12 March) to discuss its next steps.
However, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler is bullish in his defiance of the virus and emphasised his belief in the resilience of the waste management industry.
He said: “Fortunately, our sector is a resilient one and has demonstrated time and time again that it can keep our homes and streets clear of waste, even in the event of significant disruption – taking flooding as one such recent example.
“Typically, operators will already have contingency plans in place with public sector and major private sector customers to ensure continuity of service.
“In the event off significant staff shortages, operators are likely to re-deploy resources, bring in agency personnel and re-schedule collections to prioritise based on need, among other options, to avoid an unsanitary build-up of waste.”
Concerns, such as those expressed by councillor Jonathan Davies of Penrith town council below, had been raised as to the safety of collection crews.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils are aware that residents will have concerns for vulnerable family and friends if this virus spreads further.
“They have plans in place for every possible scenario, for example if large numbers of key workers are off sick at one time or schools are closed, or if extraordinary containment or delay measures are recommended by the government.
“This includes looking at how they could best use their staff and mobilise resources to continue supporting the most vulnerable and mitigate against the inevitable disruption to other important services, such as bin collections and street cleaning.”
However, with infection control measures such as the wearing of gloves in place as standard for all crews, the risk of infection for anyone collecting refuse is thought to be small, a waste sector expert told letsrecycle.com. It is thought to be far more likely the virus may be passed on at depots or in offices than during the collection of waste.
And contingency plans have been put in place by councils to protect crew members.
Routine infection prevention control measures used by bin workers will protect them from catching the virus on their rounds, but if the coronavirus continues to spread councils might have to look at less frequent bin collections or prioritising certain routes or areas and will be in close communication with residents about this.
Local authorities, such as the Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority (MRWA), have been liaising with contractors as they attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
Carl Beer, chief executive of MRWA: “MRWA are closely monitoring the rapidly moving situation in regards of the spread of coronavirus and its potential impact on waste management services in the Liverpool city region.
“Both of our two main waste management contracts have contingency plans in place, and we are working both with the contractors and our district council waste collection authorities to ensure that we respond in the most appropriate manner to the quickly changing and unique circumstances.
“Regarding the operations of our own organisation, we have a business continuity plan in place which outlines procedures to continue our service as best we can. We will also continue to follow and apply any government advice.”