Rubbish piling high across UK as Covid surge delays collections due to staff shortages


Bins in some areas have been left “overflowing” with waste from the festive season, local councillors have said, as bin collections teams come under pressures of staff needing to self-isolate

Rubbish piles left from Christmas have been left on streets around England
Rubbish piles left from Christmas have been left on streets around England

Rubbish piles left from Christmas have been left on streets around England after Covid-related staff shortages have caused “terrible” rubbish collection delays, local politicians have warned.

Bins in some areas have been left “overflowing” with waste from the festive period, as councils in London, Gloucestershire and Somerset say bin collection services have been scaled back as workers have to self isolate with the virus.

Chelmsford City Council confirmed 23 members of staff were absent and cancelled three days’ worth of food waste collections.

North Somerset Council said they had been unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve as crews remain “stretched due to staff sickness”.

A huge pile of festive period rubbish and recycling that has formed at Sainsbury’s in Maypole, Birmingham
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Stephanos Ioannou, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, said the number of complaints about missed bin collections was roughly double the average for this time of year.

“I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees are left outside,” he told the PA news agency.

“Over the Christmas period, usually I get on average 30 emails a week on waste services.

Rubbish piles due to no collections over the festive period at Park Road North in Aston, Birmingham
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“I checked my inbox yesterday… and had about 50 or 60.”

Enfield resident Matt Brooks, 40, said: “Christmas recycling still hasn’t been collected.

“When I contact the council to report it (I’m) faced with disinterest and just told to report it again if it happens.”

Enfield Council said it provided an “uninterrupted” bin collection service throughout the Christmas period and Covid was not a factor, adding that three streets in Southgate, where the majority of the complaints came from, had been missed because of a fallen tree and driver error.

Complaints about rubbish collections are rising
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Gloucester has been hit with “terrible problems” as bin collectors work in close-knit teams and quickly pass the virus onto one another, multiplying the number of staff off sick at one time, Liberal Democrat councillor Declan Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said recycling collections were stopped altogether over Christmas, caused by a combination of Covid-related absences and driver shortages.

“The reason for it is driver shortages and Covid as well.

“It’s Brexit and Covid as well. We have brought this up in council meetings.

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services,
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“What they tell us is they’ve got the drivers working in cells so there’s two or three working together, so one of them gets Covid and that means two or three of them are off.

“It hasn’t been great.”

Gloucester City Council and Enfield Council have been contacted for comment.

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Haringey Council warning the “uniquely challenging times” had impacted their workforce.

Bottles await collection after the festive season
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Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)

Newham Council has temporarily suspended the collection of bulky waste items due to “higher than normal levels of staff absence”.

Green food and garden recycling bin collections have been cancelled “until further notice” by Manchester City Council due to the number of staff in isolation.

Residents are being told to put food waste into “grey general waste bins” and store garden waste until normal collections resume.

Meanwhile Birmingham City Council apologised for missed collections over the festive period, saying crews had been affected by Covid in the week leading up to December 30.

It comes after ministers asked public sector leaders to make “contingency plans” for worst-case scenarios in which up to a quarter of staff would be absent.

It comes after ministers asked public sector leaders to make “contingency plans” for worst-case scenarios
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Asked on Times Radio whether such shortages were likely to occur, Health Minister Edward Argar said: “I think we model a range of scenarios up to things we think are highly unlikely, but you still do it because that’s what a responsible Government does in preparing for all eventualities.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England, said crews have been badly impacted by the spread of the Omicron variant and called for workers be prioritised for Covid tests.

An LGA spokesman said: “As cases of Covid-19 rise in light of the omicron variant, councils are concerned that these existing staffing issues may get worse.”

An Enfield Council spokesman said: “Despite very challenging circumstances, Enfield Council continued to deliver an uninterrupted bin collection service throughout the festive period. Staff elected to work tirelessly, even on bank holidays, so that no residents had a change to their bin collection days. We can confirm that there has been no spike in complaints related to bin services to the council over the festive period.

“However, staff shortages related to Covid-19 remain a concern for all local authorities, across several services. Enfield Council has reviewed its Business Continuity Plans and is ready to redeploy staff to keep priority services operating as close to normal as possible.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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