Posted: 31.07.20 at 15:56 by Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
The coronavirus pandemic has cost Somerset taxpayers more than £3 million as a result of recycling centres being closed and new bin collections being delayed.
The Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP) was forced to close all 16 household waste recycling centres at the start of the pandemic – and to postpone rolling out its Recycle More collections, which would have seen more materials recycled at the kerbside.
The partnership – which brings together Somerset’s five existing councils – has estimated that these delays, along with other additional costs, have now topped £3 million.
However, the SWP has said it will be able to recover the additional costs associated with Recycle More, and will work to deliver extra savings on an annual basis.
A report on the effects of the coronavirus crisis on recycling in Somerset came before the Somerset waste board when it met virtually on Friday morning (July 31).
SWP managing director Mickey Green said he was “content” that he had made the right decisions during the early stages of the crisis in spite of the virus’ financial impact.
There are five main areas in which additional costs have been accrued as a result of Covid-19:
- Recycle More delays: the SWP’s flagship scheme involved more items being recycled at the kerbside, with refuse collections moving from fortnightly to once every three weeks as a result. The roll-out was postponed and has now been redesigned to be implemented over fewer phases. The cost of this delay has been £2.3 million – of which £494,000 has been borne by Somerset County Council and the remaining £1.806 million by the four district councils.
- Recycling centres: the SWP had to shell out £140,000 for “police-accredited traffic officers, signage and barriers” when the household waste recycling centres began being slowly reopened from May. Parking enforcement officers were deployed by the county council to help with this at no extra charge.
- Additional waste collections: as a result of some services being suspended, there were larger quantities of recycling which needed collection over the Covid period. Coupled with staff shortages and delays caused by parked cars clogging up residential streets, this has cost the SWP up to £500,000.
- Waste tonnage: as a result of recycling centres being closed, larger amounts of waste had to be collected at the kerbside, resulting in an additional cost to the county council of £270,000.
- Head office costs: an additional £23,000 of costs were incurred by the SWP’s head office in Taunton – of which £20,000 came from suspending the Slim My Waste, Feed My Face campaign, and around £3,000 for equipment for staff, such as hand sanitiser and technology to enable home working.
The cumulative cost of these delays is £3,233,000 – though the SWP has said the costs associated with Recycle More will be recouped, with the scheme aiming to break even in the 2022/23 financial year.
A spokesman said: “Recycle More’s upfront costs will all be recovered – every penny – and overall year-on-year savings will be achieved, holding down council tax rises while delivering a better service with far more recycling, especially of plastics.”
Under the new timetable, Mendip will be the first part of Somerset to receive the new collections, which will begin at the end of October this year.
This will be followed by South Somerset in June 2021, then the former Taunton Deane area in September 2021, and finally Sedgemoor and the former West Somerset area in February 2022.
Councillor Sarah Wakefield said she hoped the financial burdens associated with the roll-out would be evenly spread over the different districts.
She said: “I would like to think we would not have to pay more just because we [in Taunton] are further down the line.”
Ms Wakefield represents the villages of Trull, Pitminster and Corfe on Somerset West and Taunton Council – on which she holds the portfolio for environmental services.
The extra items which will be recycled at the kerbside under Recycle More include plastic pots, TetraPaks and other cartons, small household batteries and small electrical items.
The SWP said it would offer “full support” to anyone who had concerns about how the scheme would operate in their area.