Recycling sites and COVID
All 16 sites remain open on their usual winter schedule in the current lockdown, being defined by Government as essential services. We are asking people to visit only if their trip is essential – if they cannot keep their waste at home safely or dispose of it through kerbside collections.
Everyone coming to sites MUST adhere to the restrictions in place for both the staff and public. Anecdotally we are hearing that people are less conscious of social distancing at recycling sites than in other settings such as shops. If this continues and we feel guidance is not being followed, we will not hesitate to temporarily close sites. Whilst many other parts of the country have retained controls like booking systems with a very limited number of slots, SWP hope that – with the participation of the public – we can avoid needing to escalate through our further control measures.
The restrictions at sites are as follows:
- do not visit if you have any COVID symptoms or have been asked to shield
- stay at least 2m from all staff and all other users
- wash or sanitize hands before and after the visit
- Wear gloves (wash them regularly) and consider wearing a mask
- Maximum of two people per household from the same household
We are also monitoring site use numbers and control vehicle flow if we feel it is necessary to ensure social distancing. Accordingly, sites may temporarily close in order to reduce numbers on site and keep everyone safe.
Christmas trees – If you are not a garden waste subscriber and cannot make use of a community or charity Christmas tree collection or drop-off service, you can to take your real tree to a recycling site. As per the advice above, if you can keep your tree and other waste at home without it being a danger (for example a fire risk) or a serious issue for yourself or others, please do so until restrictions are lifted.
The festive period is always an extremely busy, but this year has seen unprecedented levels of recycling and rubbish. This is a national trend driven by COVID lockdown restrictions – more online shopping and more people spending more time at home.
This year we’ve seen an increase of more than 50% in recycling in the post-Christmas period, compared to the 2020 weekly average (an average already inflated by COVID). This compares to the usual Christmas increase of around 30%.
It has taken a huge amount of effort from crews to keep up and, inevitably, we have seen more missed collections than usual. These were returned for the following day, meaning weekend working on several occasions over the festive period. We thank everyone for their patience and the crews for their hard work in trying circumstances.
Collections and COVID
All collection services (including garden waste) are currently operating. While we hope that the post-Christmas peak has passed, levels of recycling and rubbish remain very high – since last Spring we’ve seen around 20% more kerbside recycling than normal. In Somerset we are grateful that we’ve seen recycling levels increase much more than rubbish levels (compared to the national average).
At the same time as coping with more tonnage we are seeing COVID impacts on our staffing. A number across the county are self-isolating because they have either been in contact with someone who has tested positive or, in a small number of cases, have tested positive themselves.
This ‘double whammy’ puts pressure on crews and has resulted in some incomplete rounds (particularly in Mendip) recently, though these have all been fully caught up. Our Business Continuity Plan is in operation, ensuring that extra staff are being trained and brought in, and that teams from across the County are helping the worst affected areas (whilst not coming into contact with other staff).
We remain confident that we can manage these pressures, but again ask for patience as we work through this really tough period. We unfortunately anticipate that this period of extreme pressure on services will continue for some time.
Keeping our staff safe
We have been asked about measures in place to keep staff safe, for example why collection crews are not all wearing masks and operate with more than one person in a truck cab. We understand the heightened concern but can reassure you that staff and the public safety is paramount to SWP and our contactors. Together we monitor and follow industry guidance from Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, while working with others in the sector through the Environmental Services Association to share best practice.
Face coverings are not currently recommended for the work environment, but we are supporting any collection staff who opt to wear them – providing tips on using them safely in an operational environment. We have also provided operational staff with reusable face coverings for their personal use.
The Health and Safety Executive makes specific reference to refuse collection crews when acknowledging that it will not always be possible to social distance inside vehicles when tasks require more than one person. Crews work in small ‘Team bubbles’, with steps taken to ensure that these bubbles do not mix with each other or other staff – for example by requiring crews to meet their driver at an agreed pick up point on route each day rather than coming to the depot itself. All staff are encouraged and helped to maintain high standards of hygiene and hand sanitisers is freely available at all locations and to crews on the move.
At depots, there are one-way systems, screen and staggered starts and Suez has a rigorous approach to tracing any contacts and isolating bubbles of staff should there be any suspicion of COVID. All of these steps are all in place so these key workers can continue to provide an essential service, as they have throughout this crisis.