Coronavirus has had a massive impact on the UK’s infrastructure – both in terms of the services on offer, and the way communities are responding. For local authorities, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced major changes to health and safety protocol, with waste management facilities stripped back to essential collections only for the time being.
While most UK councils have been quick to adapt to the current situation, a reduction in refuse collection services has led to a growing nationwide problem: fly-tipping.
Some parts of the country have reported a 300% increase in fly-tipping incidents since coronavirus lockdown began, and the responsibility for removing illegally dumped waste falls onto local authorities’ shoulders.
How can councils tackle the problem and put a stop to the UK’s fly-tipping crisis? Let’s take a closer look…
Reduction in services is having a knock-on impact
To understand why fly-tipping has become such a problem, we need to look at how COVID-19 has impacted the country’s waste management services.
Firstly, council teams have been greatly affected by absenteeism, either because staff are off sick/self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms, or they are having to take time off for practical reasons – such as childcare demands, or living with someone who is vulnerable to the disease.
Secondly, new health and safety regulations have led to a reduction in staff requirements, as it is physically impossible for many authorities to operate normal crew sizes and socially distance. This issue is affecting all phases of the waste collection, sorting and disposal cycle, and is compounded by low availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the UK.
The result of these challenges is that most councils have reduced waste collection to essential services only, temporarily pausing bulky waste collections and garden waste schemes. Most household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) have also been closed, and whilst this situation is now improving, residents have had no way of disposing of commonly fly-tipped items.
DIY and gardening surges are creating more waste
In addition to reducing waste management services, the fly-tipping problem has been exacerbated by the fact that most UK residents are stuck at home with very little to do.
For many households, the best way to deal with lockdown boredom has been tidying, sorting and home improvement – with 45% turning to gardening, and 32% doing more DIY tasks.
But these activities generate a lot of waste, and not every resident is content to hold onto their rubbish until lockdown measures are eased. This can result in one of two scenarios; either the homeowners themselves illegally dump items they no longer need, or they pay an independent contractor to deal with their rubbish responsibly – and sadly this waste is often fly-tipped, so waste removers can pocket 100% of the profits.
Reopening household waste centres to stop fly-tipping at the source
Given the enormous increase in fly-tipping incidents, many parts of the UK are reaching waste management crisis point. So, how are local authorities dealing with the problem?
Many councils are reopening household waste recycling centres as quickly as possible, in safe operating conditions. In the West Country alone, sites in Devon, Plymouth, Gloucestershire and Somerset re-opened w/c 11 May, and other councils are looking at solutions in the rapidly changing current environment. However, this measure is not a ‘magic bullet’ to solve the UK’s fly-tipping dilemma.
Each council is looking at how best to introduce social distancing, from only allowing one person can travel to the tip per car, to only letting households make one trip per day, so the drop-off process takes much longer than usual. Some are also introducing additional ID checks, to ensure the facilities are only being used by local residents. Authorities are finding that this is creating massive congestion – Shropshire residents were forced to queue for over an hour when Telford & Wrekin Council reopened its Household Recycling Centre in Hortonwood at the start of May, for example, and other areas have experienced similar issues.
Realistically, the only thing waste management teams can do in this situation is urge people to only get rid of essential items. As more recycling centres open, demand will be spread further, and the backlog will clear as closer-to-normal operating services resume.
Putting a clear response process in place to clear fly-tipping
Getting household waste centres back up to speed is only part of the response to fly-tipping, however. Huge volumes of waste are currently in the wrong location, with local authorities facing a long list of illegally dumped rubbish that they need to clear up.
In order to deal with this fast-changing picture, council waste management teams need to ensure that head office personnel and refuse collection crews work closely together, to respond to fly-tipping incidents as quickly as possible.
Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, getting fly-tipped items reported and cleared wasn’t always an easy task. Poor communications and manual briefing processes meant it could take weeks for incidents to be logged, assigned and dealt with – causing much frustration among local residents.
The challenges of operating under COVID-19 rules have highlighted how important it is for local authorities to have strong waste management workflows in place. The teams that have dealt with coronavirus changes best are the ones using municipal waste management technology to process collection requirements in real-time, based on real data.
These forward-thinking councils have the flexible software in place to both log fly-tipping incidents quickly, and easily brief collection crews to deal with the problem during their rounds.
Tackling an ever-evolving situation
It’s sad to think that unscrupulous individuals are taking advantage of the current situation to either dump their household waste, or profit from others’ trust. But the numbers speak for themselves, and fly-tipping is clearly a huge problem for the UK right now.
Reopening household waste and recycling centres will go a huge way to easing the waste management backlog, but it’s important councils put strategies in place to get our streets cleared as quickly as possible – and some authorities are better equipped to achieve this than others.
While we’re still tackling the COVID-19 crisis, getting through the ever-evolving situation is the number one priority for councils. However, when life begins to get back to normal, there will be lessons learned; and many teams will be looking at how public sector waste management software can help them to clear current illegally dumped waste rapidly, hygienically and effectively, and innovate future fly-tipping response services.
Whitespace municipal waste management technology is already used by hundreds of UK authorities to coordinate refuse collections. Book your free demo now.