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Waste sector absences ‘higher’ than first lockdown

By 29/01/2021News

The chief executive of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) says absences are higher and morale is lower in the waste sector now than during the first lockdown.

Jacob Hayler was speaking today (28 January) at’s virtual Outlook Conference 2021.

Jacob Hayler is chief executive of the ESA

He said: “Absences are way up compared to where they were at back in the spring. Last year, absences peaked at around 10%. Now, we’re seeing them go much higher. There have been reports on some contracts of around 40% absences, which is putting real pressure on some services.

“As well as that, our members are conducting surveys and we’re seeing real impacts on mental health and morale within the workforce in the current lockdown.”

On 13 January Milton Keynes council said that 40% of its waste collection teams were unavailable as a result of having to self-isolate or shield (see story).

A string of councils have also been forced to cancel some collections since then, as they battle increasing levels of staff absence.

Mr Hayler said the ESA would make the case to the government that key workers such as those working in the waste sector should be prioritised once those who were most at risk had been vaccinated.


Adrian Clarke, general manager at FCC Environment, also addressed the pandemic at the conference, focusing on household waste recycling centres (HWRCs).

FCC Environment runs HWRCs for several councils. Its sites closed as last March’s lockdown was first imposed, before its HWRC in Wigan became the company’s first to reopen in April.

Adrian Clarke is general manager at FCC Environment

While FCC Environment’s HWRCs remain open, their reuse shops are closed as they are counted as non-essential retail.

Mr Clarke said one positive outcome of the pandemic was the public’s obvious newfound appreciation for HWRCs and the staff who run them.

“The public really values the waste and resources or recycling service that the sector provides,” he said. “A trip to the tip or your bin being collected is now valued and appreciated.”

UK economy

Also speaking at the conference was Nick Forrest, UK economics consulting leader at accountancy firm PwC. He gave a broad overview of the impact of Covid-19 on the UK economy.

Nick Forrest is UK economics consulting leader at accountancy firm PwC

Mr Forrest noted that after the shock of the first coronavirus-related restrictions, the UK economy had grown 16.3% in the third quarter of 2020. Household spending grew 20%, driven by a 17.4% growth in retail sales. The construction industry also returned to its pre-Covid-19 peak.

Mr Forrest said he expected the economy to bounce back from the second quarter of 2021. This, he said, would be supported by the release of pent-up demand, mass vaccinations and consumer savings. There is said to be an additional £100 billion in consumer savings in current accounts as a result of the pandemic, though this wealth is shared amongst higher income groups.

On a more pessimistic note, Mr Forrest said that as of 27 January unemployment in the UK was back up to 5%.

Environment bill

Alongside the pandemic, speakers at the conference also addressed the Environment Bill. The government announced on 26 January the bill would be carried over to the “next parliamentary session”.

Phil Conran is the director of waste consultancy firm 360 Environmental

Phil Conran is the director of waste consultancy firm 360 Environmental. He suggested the sector should still prepare for the changes despite the bill’s pause.

“I think we can all accept that this is just a pause and it will happen,” he said. “We’ve seen a number of consultations already, but we’re expecting a final consultation, certainly on extended producer responsibility, to be published some time in early March.

“I understand that that will be ‘a plan’ rather than ‘the final plan’, in that it will show a proposed system but not for instance the accompanying draft regulations.”


Robbie Staniforth is head of policy at compliance scheme Ecosurety. He suggested the government had paused the passage of the bill because it did not have time to scrutinise it before the next parliamentary recess. He expects the bill to return after Easter.

Robbie Staniforth is head of policy at compliance scheme Ecosurety

Mr Staniforth concurred with Mr Conran and indicated the pause did not mean the sector should not expect the publication of several consultations in March.

“We want this legislation to be passed as quickly as it can be. We want to ensure that we have correct governance in this country,” he said. “They can still put out those consultations they intend to look at and still start thinking about drafting some of the secondary legislation.”

He added: “Really they can continue because, in terms of the environment bill, they can use the working hypothesis that it will pass.”


Emma Beal is the managing director of West London Waste and chair of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO). She criticised some of the uncertainties surrounding the consultation on the DRS, saying it left local authorities unable to plan for any proposed changes.

Emma Beal is the managing director of West London Waste and chair of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers

She said: “The most difficult thing for me is that we still don’t know whether deposit return is going to be all-in or on-the-go. Until we know that, it’s impossible to know what the effect might be on local authorities.”

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Source: Waste Managment