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England councils warned of £5bn funding gap on waste and recycling services

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
Half of English councils reported a 20% increase in the material they were collecting for recycling, compared to last year. Photo: Getty
Half of English councils reported a 20% increase in the material they were collecting for recycling, compared to last year. Photo: Getty

Local councils in England have warned of rising costs as the coronavirus pandemic saw the amount of household recycling nearly double in some regions.

According to data from the Local Government Association (LGA) eight in 10 councils noted an increase in the volume of paper, cardboard, plastic and glass being collected since the start of the national lockdown.

The surge has caused a rise in costs to local council who are grappling to keep the services running amid coronavirus-induced staff shortages, extra cleaning of vehicles and disruption caused by parked cars are Britons are working from home.

Among responding authorities, the effects of social distancing had the greatest reported cause of disruption to disposal services with 28% reporting an interruption in the week commencing 3 August. In that same week, 19% of respondents noted a disruption due to staff sickness.

As a result, councils face a funding gap of more than £5bn ($3.9bn) by 2024 to keep services running at current levels. But, LGA warns that the gap could double as COVID-19 uncertainty wreaks havoc on the UK economy.

Causes of reported disruption to disposal services among responding authorities. Chart: LGA
Causes of reported disruption to disposal services among responding authorities. Chart: LGA

LGA environment spokesman, councillor David Renard, said: “Councils have kept waste and recycling services running during the COVID-19 outbreak, working hard to keep staff safe and deal with high volumes of household waste normally only seen at Christmas.

“This has led to additional cost pressures, which must be met in full for councils to be able to maintain services and cope with the increase.”

READ MORE: CBI urges UK to become global leader in creating 'green jobs'

Meanwhile, half of English councils reported a 20% increase in the material they were collecting for recycling, compared to last year — a third said they were collecting 50% more — while some councils noted a 100% rise.

Gateshead council said total tonnage of recycling collected between April and July 2020 was up by 23% compared with last year, with a record 250% rise in cardboard recycling.

In Devon, which already has one of the highest recycling rates in the country, at 56%, saw recycling rates rise by 12% between April and June this year. Devon council said 1,000 tonnes more glass bottles and jars and 1,300 tonnes more cardboard had been collected compared to the same period in 2019.

In September, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) urged Britain to become a global leader in climate action, create new “green” jobs and lift productivity after the coronavirus crisis.

Director general, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said at CBI’s first virtual Net-Zero Conference: “COVID-19, the biggest health crisis in living memory, and climate change – the defining challenge of the modern era.

“The response to one affects success on the other, and the defining question is, how does the UK use this moment to rebuild our economy and the greener and stronger world we want to return to.

“Business has been promised and is waiting for the Government’s climate blueprint – the Energy White Paper, National Infrastructure Strategy, as well as plans for the decarbonisation of transport, heat and buildings.

“Enabling firms to strike ahead with their investment plans for a net zero future with confidence.”

Watch: The £2bn Green Home Grants scheme explained