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UK Recycling Rates Suffer as Councils Cut Back on Services Due to Coronavirus
Firms across the waste and recycling industry has issued a statement on how households and businesses can safely manage their waste during the coronavirus outbreak.
In the statement, which was coordinated by the Environmental Services Association, companies including Veolia, Biffa, Viridor, and SUEZ gave advice to people who are self-isolating and signalled that the pandemic could lead to staffing shortages and a reduction in waste and recycling services.
People who are self-isolating should double-bag all of their rubbish, store it safely for 72 hours, and then put it in their general waste bin. The waste firms strongly emphasise that no tissues or ‘personal waste’ should be put into recycling bins.
The statement goes on to say that people should expect some changes to services in the coming weeks, if the coronavirus pandemic leads to staffing shortages.
Many councils have already cut back on services like garden waste and bulky waste collections in order to focus on waste and recycling collections, but they have stressed that cutting back on recycling would be a ‘last resort.’
Government figures show declining recycling rates in the UK
The effect of the pandemic on the country’s national recycling rate remains to be seen, but the latest government figures show that recycling rates are in decline in the UK, despite the push to recycle more waste, particularly plastics.
The figures show that the overall recycling rate in the UK fell to 45% in 2018, down from 45.5% in 2017. Environmental groups have called on the government to get tough on dealing with single-use items and excessive and hard to recycle packaging at its source, rather than relying on recycling as a solution.
The state of recycling across the UK
As you would expect, England produces 85% of the UK’s total waste because of the size of the population. Its recycling rate fell to 44.7%, down from 45% in 2017. Defra say that this was mainly due to less garden waste being collected due to adverse weather.
Wales continues to do well on the recycling front, boasting a recycling rate of 54.1%, though its rate in 2018 did decline by 1.1% on the previous year.
Scotland has the lowest recycling rate, only managing to recycle 42.8% of its waste in 2018, 0.7% less than in the previous year.
Kudos to Northern Ireland though, the only part of the UK to see an increase in its recycling rate. It recycled 47.7% of its waste in 2018, up by 1.4% in the previous year.
In the face of declining recycling levels and the extra pressure put on the waste and recycling industry by the coronavirus, companies have urged people to try and reduce waste as much as possible. Stockpiling of food and an increase in online shopping amid the government’s imposed lockdown has sparked fears of an increase in waste.
A snapshot of how the coronavirus has affected waste and recycling services in the UK
Like many recycling centres and tips in England, all centres and waste sites in Greater Manchester have been closed until further notice following government advice.
In Scotland, Fife council has closed waste and recycling sites at Cowdenbeath, Cupar, Dalgety Bay, Dunfermline, Glenrothes, Kirkcaldy, Ladybank, Lochgelly, Methil, Pittenweem, and St Andrews to focus on essential general waste collections.
In Newport, waste and recycling collections are operating with reduced staff due to the outbreak, the waste recycling centre is closed until further notice, and new bulky waste collections are suspended. Other areas like Torfaen have suspended green bin collections, but all other services continue to run as normal.
In Monmouthshire, grounds maintenance teams have been called in to support bin collections in the face of staff shortages. Waste and recycling centres are closed.
In Caerphilly, waste and recycling collections are going ahead as normal while waste centres are closed, and bulky waste collections have been suspended.
Most waste and recycling collections are going ahead as normal in Northern Ireland, except for those in Belfast, where 10% of council staff are self-isolating due to the virus.