The frequency of bin collections could be reduced due to the coronavirus crisis, councils have said, with the vital services under review.

Councils desperately trying to keep household waste collections going amid staffing shortages have admitted that, if the virus outbreak continues to take its toll, they will have to reduce the frequency of collections.

Both Leicester City Council and North East Lincolnshire Council have admitted that their general rubbish collections may run a reduced service as councils continue to manage staff becoming ill or having to self-isolate.

The reduction in collections has led to fears the public will see an increase in rodents, as people stockpile perishable goods and rubbish begins to pile up.

Leicester’s deputy city mayor, Cllr Adam Clarke, said that the council’s weekly collections were under “constant review” and “dependent upon workforce availability, additional available agency crew and potential for redeployment”.

He added that a contingency plan with contractor Biffa would prioritise collections of household waste including dry mixed recycling.

North East Lincolnshire Council said it was “assessing staffing on a daily basis” and that, should the authority face shortages, “our plans would be to reduce frequency of collections rather than fully stopping them”.

But on Monday night the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) put out a warning to councils to “collect rubbish regularly” or risk a “plague of rats”.

Dee Ward-Thompson, the organisation’s technical manager, said: “The link between piles of uncollected bin bags and pests is clear. More rubbish, particularly food, supports the emergence of pests and rodent infestations. 

“It’s not just a matter of nuisance but a public health issue as rats carry many diseases which can be easily spread to humans through their urine, including Toxoplasmosis and Weil’s Disease. The last thing the country needs right now is a plague of rats alongside the pandemic.”

Across the board, householders are already seeing a huge cutback on waste disposal services, including for bulky waste, garden waste, recycling and food collections.

Manchester and Leeds, as well as St Helens, have suspended both garden waste and food waste collection, while Bristol City Council, which has stopped both garden and bulky waste collections, said it was encouraging residents to “compost their garden waste at home” and “avoid placing extra strain on our services”.

To prepare for the disruption caused by coronavirus, North East Lincolnshire has moved staff from other teams, as have South Gloucestershire Council and Portsmouth City Council, who have begun training council staff as loaders and are accessing additional drivers “to create some resilience for the coming weeks”. Their service currently remains the same.

Hull City Council said it has trained up to 45 additional staff members to provide waste collection services, but this means that other services will see a reduction, including stopping the collection of bulky items.  

Meanwhile, with increased numbers of people at home, Durham County Council pleaded with members of the public to “park appropriately and leave access for bin crews to get lorries into estates and down small roads”.

People who are self-isolating are also being urged to place waste and recycling in double-bagged plastic bags and not to put their waste out for 72 hours after it has been bagged up.

But the change in collections, as well as the widespread closures of waste and recycling centres, may lead to increased fly-tipping as people turn to gardening and DIY during the lockdown.

The Local Government Association admitted that councils had seen an “increase in residual waste” for several reasons, including people following the guidance to stay at home, but said fly-tipping is “never acceptable”.

An LGA spokesman said: “As coronavirus impacts on the safety of their workforce handling waste, some councils have had to temporarily suspend or reduce the frequency of some kerbside collections, and some council household waste and recycling centres have had to impose restrictions or close in some areas.  

“Residents can definitely play a role by reducing waste and following advice from councils if waste and recycling services are subject to temporary changes. Fly-tipping is never acceptable, and services will be restored once it is safe to do so.” 

The LGA added that councils will “continue to work hard to keep waste and recycling services working as effectively as possible and to ensure the safety of the workforces delivering this key public service”.

Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, the chief executive of environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, urged people to take personal responsibility for their waste and rubbish as local councils face “significant challenges”.

She said: “The message to the public is a simple one – keep hold of your waste until it can be disposed of properly and legally. We are facing enough challenges as a country at the moment and, when we are finally able to go out and enjoy our environment again, we do not want to be faced with a country covered with even more fly-tipping.”

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