Waste and Renewables Coronavirus Update

Last Updated: 12:25, 30th September 2020

Welcome to this Freeths Waste & Renewables sector Coronavirus update.

While some aspects of life are getting back to a “new normal”, there continue to be great challenges to the industry as not only the composition of waste and where it is generated has not returned to the pre-COVID-19 situation, but businesses must find safer ways of working to ensure workers can comply with guidance on social distancing. This update contains a round-up of key developments for the sector.

Friday 17th April - WasteSupport launched

Developed by CIWM in partnership with WRAP and other leading public and private sector organisations, WasteSupport was launched as a, free online platform providing a fully searchable sharing forum. The platform allows local authorities to link up with private sector contractors that have resources to spare; they can indicate when they need service capacity support, as well as other vital resources, such as PPE or vehicle maintenance engineers. On the private sector side, commercial waste collection firms with surplus capacity are able to advertise the services they can supply - as CIWM says: “enabling this 'virtual marketplace' to facilitate sharing at a time when it's needed most”. 9th July: Defra issued its Coronavirus waste services guide. The Guidance covers:

  1. Recommendations for prioritising waste collection services
    1. Maintaining residual waste (black bag) collections
    2. Aim to maintain dry recyclables collections
    3. Communicate to residents
    4. Allocating staff to waste services
  2. Key to prioritisation
  3. Residual ('black bag') refuse collection Priority: High Action: Maintain
  4. Food waste Priority: High Action: Where food waste is collected weekly these services should be maintained so far as possible so that putrescible waste is removed frequently. For mixed food and garden waste collections, these would need to continue as for food waste to prevent food and garden waste build up. As a last resort it may be necessary to stop food waste collections temporarily and ask residents to put food waste in the same container as their residual waste and not to collect garden waste.
  5. Dry recyclables collections (fortnightly)Priority: Medium Action: Maintain
  6. Dry recyclables (weekly)Priority: Low Action: Consider changing to collection to fortnightly.
  7. Garden waste Priority: Low Action: Review frequency of service as necessary and consider temporary cessation.
  8. Household Waste Recycling centres (HWRC)Priority: Medium Action: If it is possible to keep HWRCs open, make sure that social distancing rules can be maintained. Always provide adequate staffing levels for health and safety and security purposes. Note also the Defra guidance issued on 9 July (See more below).
  9. Bring sites Priority: Low - medium Action: Maintain if possible. Staff from other services could be asked to maintain if have capacity.
  10. Fly-tipping Priority: High Action: Maintain - but prioritise what is cleared.
  11. Trade waste: Medium Action: Review schedule and provide reduced frequency service to low volume, low risk customers. Promote local sub-contractors.
  12. Care homes Priority: High Action: Maintain
  13. Dedicated Clinical or Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) waste collections from householders Priority: High Action: Maintain
  14. Assisted collections Priority: High Action: Maintain
  15. Bulky items (furniture, fridges)Priority: Low Action: Review service as necessary and consider alternative collectors or temporary cessation where necessary.

Defra says thanks On 5th May, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, jointly issued a letter to all local authority leaders and chief executives in England. This letter thanked and recognised councils for their efforts in maintaining and keeping waste collection services running, throughout the pandemic. The letter also directed councils to review DEFRA's updated official guidance in maintaining access to key facilities and the process of re-opening.

20th March: By way of reminder, the Government issued Procurement Policy Note 02/20: Supplier relief due to COVID-19 which sets out information and guidance for public bodies on payment of their suppliers to ensure service continuity during and after the current Coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak. The basis of the Action Note is that Contracting authorities must act to ensure suppliers at risk are in a position to resume normal contract delivery once the outbreak is over.The actions Contracting Authorities are to take are:

  • Urgently review their contract portfolio and inform suppliers who they believe are at risk that they will continue to be paid as normal (even if service delivery is disrupted or temporarily suspended) until at least the end of June.
  • Put in place the most appropriate payment measures to support supplier cash flow; this might include a range of approaches such as forward ordering, payment in advance/prepayment, interim payments and payment on order (not receipt).
  • If the contract involves payment by results then payment should be on the basis of previous invoices, for example the average monthly payment over the previous three months.
  • To qualify, suppliers should agree to act on an open book basis and make cost data available to the contracting authority during this period. They should continue to pay employees and flow down funding to their subcontractors.
  • Ensure invoices submitted by suppliers are paid immediately on receipt (reconciliation can take place in slower time) in order to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and protect jobs.

On 9th July, DEFRA updated its guidance on how HWRCs in England should be managed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This non-statutory guidance is to help local authorities reopen, or to keep open HWRCs. It sets out what may be considered necessary, as well as measures to support the operation of HWRCs with public health measures.

3rd August: WISH has updated its Guidance on COVID-19 and Waste Management ActivitiesThe Guidance covers:

  1. COVID-19, why it may be a problem for waste management and RIDDOR
  2. Symptoms and what to do if an employee shows the symptoms
  3. General precautions▪ Controlling the spread of COVID-19 and workplace advice▪ Risk Assessment▪ Good hygiene▪ Social distancing▪ Cleaning procedures▪ Handling wastes - can I catch it this way?▪ PPE (personal protective equipment)▪ Vulnerable and extremely vulnerable persons▪ Testing for workers and NHS 'test and trace' scheme▪ First aid provision
  4. Changes made in response to COVID-19▪ Maintaining critical competencies and standards▪ Change management▪ Inspections, testing, maintenance and repair▪ Returning to 'business as usual'
  5. Specific advice▪ Routine inspections and monitoring▪ Street cleaning, public waste bins and fly tipped wastes▪ Vehicles and collections operations▪ Bulky waste collections▪ Mobile plant▪ Landfills, MBT and transfer stations▪ MRFs and recycling plants▪ CA/HW▪ Welfare facilities▪ Weighbridges

On 13th July, Defra published its guidance, applicable in England only, on how to dispose of personal and business waste, including face coverings and PPE, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance provides advice to those in self-isolation, those working in businesses or organisations, cleaning waste and litter picking. Note also the further advice (below) on PPE waste generated by NHSE healthcare workers treating patients with (or suspected) COVID-19 in their own homes.

Recycling Waste Spectacles 17th September: Following on from the EA guidance on low risk waste positions (LRWP) for waste operations, the EA recently added guidance on recycling waste spectacles (LRWP 76). By following this guidance, one can store and treat waste spectacles without an environmental permit for a waste operation.

Definition of Waste Service17th September: the EA have temporarily suspended its Definition of Waste Service to new customer and new submissions until at least 1 January 2021, which means that requests for an opinion on the waste status of materials cannot be submitted.

On-farm Anaerobic Digestion15th September: The EA has updated its statutory guidance in respect of on-farm anaerobic digestion facilities using farm waste only (including the use of any resultant biogas). The generic risk assessment has been changed to correct a typographic error in relation to distance of the stack from sensitive receptors. It now reflects what is stated in the standard rule.

Non-hazardous and Inert Waste Consultation14th September: the EA launched its formal consultation on new guidance relating to the appropriate measures for permitted facilities that take non-hazardous and inert waste for treatment or transfer. The consultation is due to close at 5pm on 13 November

Waste Storage Limits Exceeding waste storage limits at permitted sites because of COVID-19: RPS C2.When you can temporarily store more waste than your permit allows during the COVID-19 outbreak. Prioritisation of waste and recycling collection services14th April - Coronavirus: guidance on the prioritisation of waste and recycling collection services.

15th April: The Government published guidance incineration of COVID-19 infectious waste. The guidance concerns when you can incinerate COVID-19 infectious waste at a municipal waste incinerator without varying your permit. In order to incinerate such waste, the operator must follow the conditions in the COVID-19 regulatory position statement (RPS) and get written agreement from the Environment Agency.

Emissions from Large Combustion Plant On 21st May, the EA published guidance for Large Combustion Plant operators (RPS C18), and when they can delay meeting new emission limit values scheduled to take effect from 1st July 2020 due to COVID-19Monitoring emissions On 22nd May, updated guidance was published to advise on the delays/rescheduling of some emissions to air and water monitoring due to COVID-19 restrictions (RPS C7). This RPS applies to the following activities permitted under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) regulations 2016:

  • installations
  • waster operations
  • radioactive substances (nuclear or non-nuclear)
  • water discharge and groundwater activities

Waste at healthcare waste management facilities Guidance was issued on 27th May, on cleansing and PPE waste at a healthcare waste management facility: (RPS C1), which covers guidance on:

  • waste from cleaning people or places infected, or potentially infected, with Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • separately collected personal protective equipment (PPE) waste, for example used facemasks and gloves, from commercial premises and produced as a result of social distancing measures

Classifying waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)Guidance has been published on 8th June for waste operators and exporters on classifying some waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) devices, components, and wastes from their treatment. This publications deals with:

  • Assessing items of WEEE (what items may need assessing)
  • Wastes from treating WEEE and WEEE components
  • Exporting WEEE, treated WEEE and used electrical and electronic equipment

Importing and exporting waste Updated guidance was published on 11th June, regarding the controls that apply on importing and/or exporting waste from the UK, including:

  • Waste shipment controls
  • Use of the waste export tool
  • Applying for import or export notification controls
  • Use of IWS online
  • Notification controls and how to comply
  • Applying for site pre-consent
  • Article 18 controls

Note also the guidance issued by the European Commission on 30th March on Shipments of Waste in the EU.

Healthcare workers and PPE Guidance was issued on 22nd June, on PPE waste from home healthcare workers treating patients with COVID-19: RPS C5. This guidance only applies to PPE waste generated by NHSE healthcare workers treating patients with (or suspected) COVID-19 in their own homes and does not apply to any other activity, even if it is under the same legislation.Social distancingGuidance was issued on 22nd June,  in relation to social distancing when signing and handing over waste transfer and consignment notes in person: RPS C8Reporting deadlines for installations, radioactive substances and waste permitsGuidance was issued on 22nd June, on the reporting deadlines for installations, radioactive substances and waste permits: RPS C10, specifically when these deadlines could not be adhered to due to COVID-19 restrictions. The following types of reporting are covered under this guidance:

  • routine monitoring of releases to air and water reports - for example, quarterly emissions monitoring
  • routine environmental monitoring reports - for example, soils near nuclear sites
  • progress reports on how you are delivering an improvement condition
  • reports required by an improvement condition, with the exception of reports about commissioning new activities
  • reports of routine reviews, audits, tests and assessments
  • for hospitals only, high activity sealed sources (HASS) record forms for the HASS inventory

Treating sewage sludge

Further guidance was issued on 22nd June, on how treated sewage sludge should be stored if it cannot be moved as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, namely sludge which cannot be moved to agricultural land for use under SUiAR.

2nd April HMRC Special Landfill Tax Briefing - COVID-19Relaxation of the rules around weighbridges and Qualifying fines and Loss on Ignition tests. Shipments of Waste in the EU. On 30th March the European Commission issued guidance which covers:

  • Ensuring smooth cross-border transport of waste shipments in the EU and exchange of information - The Commission asks that all Member States fully implement to waste shipments the recommendations on ensuring that all freight gets quickly to its destination without any delays and in particular to ensure that waste shipments have access to the 'green lane' border crossings.
  • Electronic exchange of documents and information - with a recommended that electronic procedures are used for the procedures and information exchange laid down in the Waste Shipment Regulation, and that electronic exchanges of documents and information, including where possible digital signatures, are used and accepted by competent authorities in all Member States
  • Facilitating waste shipment procedures - The Guidance states that the use of electronic exchanges, as recommended above, is instrumental to ensuring the timely completion of the procedure to obtain the consent of the competent authorities of dispatch, transit and destination to carry out the waste shipment. Furthermore, as the deadline for providing consent to shipments to a pre-consented facility is shorter than that for shipments to other facilities (see Article 14 of the WSR) it is recommended to consider the application of this procedure where appropriate.

Mandatory MOT test re-introduced

On 29th June, the Department for Transport announced that from 1st August mandatory MOT testing would be re-introduced for cars, motorcycles and van owners. Drivers with an MOT due date before 1st August will still receive a 6-month exemption from testing. However, all vehicles must continue to be properly maintained and kept in a roadworthy condition, and people are able to voluntarily get their MOT sooner should they wish, even if they are exempt from the legal requirement. Motorists can be prosecuted for driving an unsafe vehicle.

Relaxation of the enforcement of the drivers' hours rules has endedTo help deal with the unprecedented consequences of the outbreak of COVID-19 on the road haulage sector, the Department for Transport introduced a temporary and limited urgent relaxation of the enforcement of both the EU and GB drivers' hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales 23 March 2020. The Department of Transport ended these relaxations on 14th June. Further guidance on how and when to request a temporary relaxation of the drivers' hours and working time rules for commercial operators is available hereRIDDOR reporting of COVID-19 - You must only make a report under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) when:

  • an unintended incident at work has led to someone's possible or actual exposure to Coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.

For further details of HSE updates covered in this section see Coronavirus: Updated guidance from the Health & Safety Executive.Skilled workers exempt from 14-day quarantine rule. On 22nd May, the Government announced a series of UK border measures (14-day quarantine rule), effective from 8th June, to help guard against a second wave of Coronavirus infections. The Government updated guidance, which was issued on 10th July, provides that a number of exemptions apply, including for workers with specialist skills related to the resources and waste sector, who will not be subject to the 14-day quarantine rule. The exemption covers:“a worker with specialist technical skills, where those specialist technical skills are required for essential or emergency works (including commissioning, maintenance, repairs and safety checks) or to fulfil contractual obligations or warranty specifications in, or in connection with, waste management facilities used for the management, sorting, treatment, recovery, or disposal of waste (including energy from waste)”

Re-opening safely

The Government has provided an online risk assessment tool to help business re-open safely and make sensible adjustments to the site and workforce.

Safe working

The HSE has published guidance on working safely during the COVID-19 outbreak, which deals with

  • Risk assessments
  • Information to provide to workers
  • Working from home
  • Making workplaces 'COVID secure'
  • Protecting vulnerable works
  • Cleaning, hygiene and hand sanitiser

BSI has published its second version of the 'Safe Working During the COVID-19 Pandemic Guidelines', to provide recommendations for safe working during the pandemic. Major new clauses include:

  • Working from home
  • Managing suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • Multiple or mobile workplaces
  • Safe use of toilets
  • Reporting to external parties
  • Inclusivity and accessibility
  • Psychological health and well-being.

6th April: EA Guidance on Water and sewerage company OSM and UWWTR sampling

The EA has released Guidance on - Water and sewerage company OSM and UWWTR sampling affected by COVID-19: RPS C3.  This COVID-19 RPS relates to sampling discharges from water and sewerage company waste water treatment works and water treatment works. On 22nd June, the EA updated this guidance, by extending the RPS' expiry date to 30th September 2020. On 29th June, DEFRA updated the Outcome indicator framework for the 25 Year Environment Plan: 2020 update which was first published in May 2020: These updates included:

  • Missing data showing the net greenhouse gases in graph A2
  • A legend has now been added to graph B1A, which identifies the metals found in English tidal waters
  • the numbers of priority species for D6 graphs
  • a missing link to data for indicator J6 (Waste Crime), which shows illegal waste sites and fly tipping incidents.

China to ban solid waste imports

On 7th July, Bureau of International Recycling reported that China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment has confirmed that the country will be banning the import of solid waste from next year (2021) and will therefore no longer accept or approve import applications for solid waste.

If you would like to talk through the consequences for your business, please email us and one of our team will get in touch.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.