Briefing – Waste and Cleansing Service Recovery Plan in Edinburgh

Below is an update from the Council on the status of the waste collection system in Edinburgh. The key points are:

  1. Recycling centres remain closed due to Government restrictions, but a plan is ready for their safe operation once they can reopen.
  2. The special uplift service should return in the near future.
  3. There are no plans to reopen public toilets as yet.

Briefing

This briefing outlines the steps we’re taking to review and reinstate Waste and Cleansing Services during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. It also highlights some of the assumptions being made in the reinstatement of services, particularly any relaxation of current Government guidelines.

A number of services were suspended during the outbreak both as a result of reductions in available staff, and the requirement to ensure physical distancing to reduce risks to collection staff. This reduced the numbers of staff who can occupy a vehicle cab. As a result, the service had to adapt and change the way in which collections were carried out. 

It is particularly important to note that the current intention is to maintain physical distancing controls for crews until such time as we are comfortable that normal crew arrangements can be reinstated.

In Edinburgh, our focus was on maintaining the most critical services which were required to maintain public health, including general household waste, food collections, mixed recycling and all communal bin services.

Absence levels due to Coronavirus currently appear to have reached a plateau within waste collection. Staffing availability will continue to be tracked daily and forecast for the weeks ahead.

The following outlines the current position with regards to each of our collection services.

Kerbside and communal services

With the exception of blue box and garden waste collections all the remaining kerbside and communal services have been fully maintained. In some cases, across communal collections, the collection frequency has been enhanced to reflect people staying at home and generating more waste than they might normally.

There has been some media coverage suggesting an increase in rat/vermin sightings and reports.

The number of rat complaints received between 13 March 2020 and the 24 April 2020 was 27. For the same period in 2019 there were 81 requests for service.

Blue box collections

Blue box collections of glass were the first to be suspended. As staff numbers have stabilised over the last two weeks this service was reinstated with effect from 28 April. 

Communications messaging has focused on residents assisting collection crews by not presenting excess glass waste outside of their boxes and instead asking residents to filter additional glass over the course of their next few collections. 

Early indications are that we are collecting double the glass tonnage each day than would be collected under normal circumstances. 

Garden waste collection

Those garden staff who remain at work have been used to support the core functions of collecting residual waste, mixed recycling, food and communal bins alongside allowing the service to provide additional collections to high rise properties to prevent increased fire risk.

Garden waste collections will be reinstated in the week commencing 11 May.  Relevant communications to the public have commenced. Customers are being emailed or written to in order to confirm reinstatement.

It is currently proposed to extend a customer’s permit to cover the number of missed collections resulting from the suspension.

Household Waste Recycling Centres 

All three household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) in Edinburgh remain closed and all HWRCs in Scotland are currently closed. This is in line with Government guidance that people should only leave their homes for defined essential activities and the provision of HWRCs is not considered by the Government to be essential at this time. 

There has been discussion around a co-ordinated reopening of HWRCs in Scotland when the appropriate time comes to avoid any mass surge in visits to any particular Council sites should they be the first to re-open. This approach has not yet been confirmed on a national basis, although as a minimum Edinburgh are actively holding discussions with neighbouring Councils to establish their intentions.

The service is currently working to an assumption that the HWRCs will re-open following a relaxation of the current Government guidelines, however are awaiting further guidance.

At this stage we are assuming that when the sites re-open there will be a requirement for some form of social distancing to protect both customers and staff. Current proposals being considered are:

  • initially opening two of the three sites which may be defined by staff availability
  • restricting the range of materials accepted to core garden, black bag, bulky and possibly cardboard
  • restricting staff assistance to customers (to move materials to skips)
  • requiring physical distancing measures to be followed at all times and therefore restrictions on the number of customers on the site at any one time and following a one in, one out policy.

Communications messaging will need to focus on increased wait times and new site working arrangements to avoid additional frustration for customers. It is important to note that the way in which HWRCs operate, and the way in which customers use them, is likely to change significantly.

When a reopening date is confirmed a further briefing will be provided to Elected Members and will focus on the arrangements that will be in place to protect staff and customers.

Special uplifts of bulky waste

At the current time we are working towards a reinstatement date in the near future, although the precise date is yet to be confirmed. There is an element of direct support required from colleagues in Customer and their current working arrangements are being considered.

Online booking forms would likely go live one week ahead of the first job being carried out. It is highly likely we would be unable to provide assisted special uplifts (where operatives enter a person’s house to uplift) due to the obvious risks. We may also need to restrict the number of items that can be booked on one job to five rather than ten. The average number of items uplifted per job is two.

We normally provide ninety slots per day but can increase this if demand is excessive.

Whilst Special Uplifts have been suspended, the staff have been providing support to Cleansing colleagues on the uplift of dumping and fly tipping. As the table overleaf shows the number of dumping/fly tipping requests/complaints has reduced when measured against the same period in 2019.

Cleansing

Cleansing functions remain reduced but have been bolstered by staff from other areas. This service continues to operate albeit in a reduced state, with a focus on emptying litter bins and removing fly-tipping. Increased focus on mechanical cleansing will require to take place once restrictions are lifted.

Public conveniences

Public conveniences remain closed. There are currently no plans to reopen these although as with all services our aim would be to do so when we are satisfied that we can provide a reliable and safe service.

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