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Bins left ‘overflowing’ with Christmas waste in England amid Covid staff shortage crisis

Bin collections have been cancelled in parts of England due to high numbers of staff falling ill from Covid

Bins at homes across England have been left “overflowing” with waste from the festive season due to Covid-related staff shortages.

Chelmsford City Council confirmed 23 members of staff were absent, resulting in three days’ worth of food waste collections to be cancelled as a result.

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Bin collection services have been forced to be scaled back as workers continue to fall sick with the virus, according to councillors in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Buckinghamshire.

Stephanos Ioannou, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, said: “I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees are left outside.

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

“I checked my inbox yesterday… and had about 50 or 60.”

Which areas have been affected by bin collection delays?

North Somerset Council said it has been unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve as the team continued to be “stretched due to staff sickness”.

Gloucester has also been hit with “terrible problems” according to Liberal Democrat councillor Declain Wilson, as bin collectors work in close proximity causing the virus to spread more quickly thereby affecting a lot of staff at once.

Parts of England including London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Buckinghamshire have also had to delay bin collections because of staff shortages.

What have Councils said?

A number of London boroughs announced there could be future delays to services.

Haringey Council warned that its workforce has been impacted by the “uniquely challenging times”, while Newham Council has temporarily suspended collections of bulky waste items due to “higher than normal levels of staff absence”.

Garden recycling bin collections alongside green food waste have been cancelled “until further notice” by Manchester City Council due to the amount of staff still in isolation.

Residents in Manchester City Council are advised to put food waste into “grey general waste bins” and store garden waste for the time being.

Birmingham City Council apologised for the missed collections over the Christmas break. The Council said members of staff had been infected with the virus in the week leading up to 30 December.

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

Is it just Covid causing staff shortages?

The delays in bin collections is due to “driver shortages and Covid as well,” Mr. Wilson said.

Recycling collections were halted over Christmas due to Covid absences and driver shortages, according to the councillor.

The close proximity of bin collectors has also been a factor in why there has been huge numbers of staff shortages.

Mr Wilson said: “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.”

What has the government said?

Ministers have asked public sector leaders to make “contingency plans” for worst-case scenarios, such as if up to a quarter of staff are absent.

Health Minister, Edward Argar, questioned on Times Radio whether shortages of this extent are likely to occur, 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 fast spread of the Omicron variant has badly affected bin collectors, the Local Government Assocation (LGA), representing councils across England, said.

The LGA has called for workers to be prioritised for Covid tests.

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

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