Fears waste collection will be caught up in the Covid-19 disruption

Contaminated waste and recycling are issues facing businesses, writes Áine Kenny

Bales of recycled materials at the Forge Hill recycling centre, Cork.  	Picture: Dan Linehan
Bales of recycled materials at the Forge Hill recycling centre, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Concerns have been raised that Covid-19 will affect waste collection in Ireland, and reduce the amount of recycling collected.

Some local authorities have already reduced recycling services at their civic amenity sites, allowing only general waste to be dropped off.

That means households who rely on dropping off their recycling to a local site will be forced to dump their recycling into their general waste, or hold onto it for the duration of the crisis.

Social distancing rules have also meant people are facing long queues to dispose of their rubbish at sites. 

However, the private bin collection companies said they will continue to operate as normal and that they will follow HSE advice.

The waste disposal advice is for households to put out the bins as normal the night before collection and to wipe down the bin handles before and after collections.

Any materials that might be contaminated such as tissues or cloths, should be placed in the general waste bin.

For people who have tested positive for Covid-19, the advice is to put all personal rubbish such as gloves, tissues, wipes and masks in a bin bag and tie the bag when it is almost full.

The bin bag should be put into a second bin bag and tied with a knot and stored in a safe place for three days, and then put into the general waste bin for collection.

Conor Walsh, the secretary of the Irish Waste Management Association, which represents some of Ireland’’s private waste management companies, said the regional waste management planning offices are working closely with the waste industry and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

"We are collecting and recycling waste as normal so far," said Mr Walsh.

"Anecdotally, household waste quantities have increased by 20% to 30%, but commercial waste quantities have declined sharply and will decline much further this week. Overall quantities of waste are down.

"Those infected with the virus will be advised to double bag all the waste that they use, and to hold it for 72 hours, before putting it into the general waste bins for collection.

That will reduce recycling, but is a very important measure to reduce exposure to COVID-19, which comes first at this time.

"Also, anecdotally, brown bin waste has increased significantly this week, due to people eating at home and increased gardening activity," he said. 

It is also expected that there will be an increase in the amount of medical waste Ireland will produce, but Mr Walsh said plans have been put in place.

"Yes, we have limited capacity in this area, so it is a challenge, but contingency measures have been considered to ensure that clinical/hazardous waste is managed and treated in a safe and environmentally sound manner," Mr Walsh said.

Niall Killilea, managing director of the City Bin, which operates in Dublin and Galway, said the company has seen an increase in recycling and organic waste.

"The advice from the HSE arising from experience in other markets is that all material from an infected house should go to the black general waste bin.

"We have seen increases in each of the green recycling bin and brown organic bin," he said. 

"Overall, we have seen an 18% rise in the volumes coming from all three bins. This is to be expected given that people are consuming so much more at home," he said. 

He said the biggest increase has been in the brown organic bins and we know that the majority of this is garden and grass cuttings.

Mr Killilea also said his company had not specifically noticed any increases in single use plastic.

Country Clean, a Cork-based waste collection company, said it would also continue to operate as normal.

"Waste collection and management is a critical essential service and all our waste collections operations are continuing and will continue to operate as normal in these trying times thanks to our excellent front line staff.

"We have observed that recycling rates are remaining the same as usual.

"But there has been a significant increase in the weights of waste bins from householders.

This is similar to what we see in the weeks after other busy times of the year when people are staying at home," County Clean said.

"We also note a major decrease in all commercial waste bin collections [from] pubs, restaurants, shops, hotels," it said.

"We would ask everyone to make sure all their waste is placed fully in their wheelie bin, as it is unsafe for our crew to collect waste left beside the wheelie bin," it said.

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