Defra issues guidance for councils on prioritising waste collections during COVID-19 crisis

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued guidance for local authorities on prioritising waste collections during COVID-19 crisis.

It comes during a time when many councils are having to reduce a number of waste and recycling services provided, due to staffing shortages that have occurred during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The guide sets out to help local authorities and other waste collectors prioritise their waste collection services during the coronavirus pandemic and has been developed with comments from local authorities and the waste industry.

The guide is non-statutory, applies only to English local authorities and is intended as “temporary”, according to Defra.

The Department states that circumstances vary from local authority to local authority and some of the recommendations may not be appropriate for some.

Many local authorities already have contingency plans which they are now implementing and these should be taken into account in service planning, it says.


The guidance covers everything from residual waste collections, to food waste, trade waste, clinical waste and assisted collections.

It ranks each in terms of how local authorities should view their priority:

High priority – These are the most important and “should continue as normal”, the guide states. These services are a legal requirement and/or otherwise there are likely to be severe impacts on environmental and human health if they are suspended completely.

Medium priority – If these services are stopped there will be some “disruption”, but the impacts won’t be as “severe” as the high priority services being suspended. There will be less risk to human health than if high priority services are suspended.

Low priority –There will be “minimal or no impact or disruption” if these services are suspended, the guide states. There will also be minimal or no risk to human health if these services or stopped.

The priority system in the guidance labels:

  • Residual (‘black bag’) refuse collection – high priority

  • Food waste – high priority

  • Dry recyclables collections (fortnightly) – medium priority

  • Dry recyclable collections (weekly) – low priority

  • Garden waste collections – low priority

  • Household waste and recycling centres – medium priority

  • Bring sites – low/medium priority

  • Fly-tipping – high priority

  • Trade waste collections – medium priority

  • Care homes – high priority

  • Dedicated Clinical or Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) waste collections from householders – high priority

  • Assisted collections – high priority

  • Bulky items – low priority

  • Deliveries of replacement containers – low priority

For the full guidance, click here.


[UPDATE 8 April]

Responding to updated government guidance on waste services to councils amid the coronavirus crisis, Cllr David Renard, Environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “Most council-run general waste and recycling kerbside collection services are operating as normal.

“This is testament to the hard work of councils as they try and keep waste and recycling services working as effectively as possible and to ensure the safety of the workforce delivering this key public service.

As this new guidance rightly recognises, decisions on waste and recycling services must always be based on local circumstances.

“Any reduction in recycling collection services is a difficult decision for councils and will never be taken lightly. As this new guidance rightly recognises, decisions on waste and recycling services must always be based on local circumstances.

“Residents and businesses can help by following the advice from their local council and continuing to recycle where this is possible.

“Fly-tipping is never acceptable and we urge people and businesses not to burn garden waste – composting or recycling it where possible is better for the environment. Burning household waste is an offence and liable to prosecution.”


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