Additional Safeguards Needed to Guarantee Proper Waste Management : ESA Welcomes ‘Key Worker’ Status for Waste Industry in Face of Coronavirus

esa waste recycling covid-19 coronavirus key worker

The UK’s Environmental Services Association (ESA) has welcomed the government’s recognition of waste and recycling operatives as key workers, enabling them to continue to send their children to school – something restricted to parents of key workers as part of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, the organisation has also called on the government to:

Allow some short-term flexibility around planning and permitting conditions to allow services to continue in the event of a reduced workforce, or inability to move material to its normal destinations

Prioritise the sector as a critical industry to ensure the continuation of supplies necessary for it to keep operating, such as fuel

Ensure that temporary provision is in place to relieve operators from contractual performance penalties with the local authorities it serves, during this pandemic. For now, the industry must focus on keeping services running, and not on meeting contractual targets.

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Jacob Hayler, commented:

“Our sector also relies heavily on access to fuel, so it is imperative that Government views the recycling and waste management sector as a critical industry so we can keep the wheels turning.

ESA members are concerned that strict operational and technical rules around the operation of waste sites will force otherwise functioning facilities to close. For example, it might not be possible to move waste material to its normal destination, necessitating temporary storage of waste material in larger volumes than would normally be allowed.

While ESA members respect these rules and will make every effort to comply with them, we need assurance from Government that temporary unavoidable infractions will not be met with penalties, otherwise essential facilities may have to close.

ESA members provide a large proportion of the recycling and waste management services to local councils across the UK under contract. Normally, operators might incur contractual financial penalties for not meeting agreed performance criteria, such as recycling targets.

Our industry needs assurance from Government and local authority partners that any temporary decline in performance measures will not be penalised. ESA members will, of course, continue to provide the best level of service possible, but these are times of crisis and the sector must focus on keeping core services moving – not on meeting targets.

The ESA is in close dialogue with both Defra and the Environment Agency to raise these issues and concerns at the highest levels, so we can provide critical updates to our members on this fast-moving situation.

“Our sector is well-versed at keeping its employees safe in respect of workplace hygiene, but it is now more important than ever that frontline recycling and waste workers follow the guidance provided by their respective employers regarding safe waste handling practices. While every employer will have its own specific workplace practices, these typically include correctly wearing all of the necessary Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) provided for specific roles; ensuring good personal hygiene practices, particularly in respect of food; and reporting any symptoms of illness promptly.

“The public has been asked by Defra to ensure that any waste produced in a non-medical setting, associated with a person who has symptoms of COVID-19, is double-bagged, tied securely and left inside for at least 72 hours before being placed in the bin, after which time the virus is no longer viable.

“This is to prevent the transmission of infection and helps protect waste workers. Furthermore, we would urge the public not to put tissues and other sanitary items in their recycling – they should be disposed of in the general waste.”

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