Councils suspend garden waste collections amid Covid-19 staff shortages

Councils around the country are suspending garden waste collections because of staff shortages due to Covid-19.

As coronavirus cases and the number of people self-isolating rise, local authorities have announced temporary suspensions in green waste collections, which they do not have a legal duty to provide.

A number of councils are suspending green waste collections for periods ranging from a fortnight to several months, to concentrate on collecting rubbish and recycling.

It comes as England lifts almost all coronavirus restrictions, and as hospitality, leisure, food production and retail sectors complain of having to close premises or cut opening hours because of the number of people being told to self-isolate for 10 days after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

There is also an ongoing HGV driver shortage, which has been blamed on the pandemic and Brexit and which has affected waste collection rounds.

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Doncaster Council said its waste and recycling contractor Suez has a significant number of staff who have tested positive or are having to self-isolate, and the national HGV driver shortage means agency workers were not available.

Mark Houlbrook, portfolio holder for sustainability and waste, said: “The safety of staff members and the general public must take priority.

“It is a balancing act to safeguard everyone’s safety against the risks of Covid-19 and making sure the bins are collected.

“However, as we have fewer staff members, this will mean that black and blue (recycling) bin collections will be prioritised.”

He added: “We hope that the staff members affected make a full and speedy recovery. Suez and Doncaster will be frequently monitoring the situation and will regularly update residents. We ask for the public’s patience at this time.”

The council said it was suspending green waste collections from next Monday and would restart them as soon as possible.

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The Somerset Waste Partnership said it was expecting significant problems with collections this week, with the continued nationwide driver shortage and the increasing impact of Covid-19 self isolation.

Rubbish and garden waste collections have been prioritised and maintained, but an increasing number of recycling collections have been missed and that was likely to continue this week, the partnership said.

In Bristol, all garden waste collections have been suspended until mid-September.

Liverpool City Council said it had suspended garden waste collections for two weeks due to an increase in Covid-19-related staff absences.

Shirley Procter-Dow, community services manager at Copeland Borough Council in Cumbria, which has also suspended its collections for two weeks, said: “Sadly our staff are not immune from the virus.

“We have very large numbers isolating either because they have Covid or have been in close contact with someone who has it.

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“Coupled with ‘normal’ absence through sickness, annual leave etc, this is affecting our ability to complete recycling and waste collections.

“Suspending garden collections for a short time isn’t something we want to do, and we’ll be getting back to normal as soon as possible – our aim is to begin again in the week beginning August 2.”

Garden waste services, which are not a statutory service and which many councils charge for, were hit at the beginning of the pandemic, with more than a third of English councils suspending them.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Councils know how important waste and recycling is to their residents and have been working hard throughout the pandemic to keep these services running as best as possible.

“Local authorities and their contractors have a duty of care to their employees and must adhere to Government guidelines on self-isolating when staff show symptoms of Covid-19 or are in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

“While most councils have been able to keep services running, many could possibly face difficult decisions and must prioritise services designed to protect the most vulnerable in their communities.”