Councils absorb waste challenges posed by flooding

After a terrible winter of floods and washouts, the weather gods have shown a little mercy and calmed down. But have you ever wondered what happens to the waste and recycling services in towns before and after floods? Liz Gyekye finds out.

One of the worst affected areas to suffer from the recent floods was Gloucestershire. The area was also affected by the summer washout in 2007. A spokeswoman from the Gloucester Joint Waste Team and Somerset Waste Partnership tells LAWR that “both Gloucestershire and Somerset have areas such as the floodplain of the Severn and the Somerset Levels that flood periodically”.

For some residents it is accepted as a recurring hazard of where they live. People in, for example, Tewkesbury and on the Somerset Levels who regularly get flooded usually move their belongings out of the way in advance. There are some properties on the Somerset levels where people effectively move upstairs for the winter.

She says that disruption to roads is predictable, short in duration or very local, so they can usually work around these to provide a normal waste collection service. However, she adds: “Where damage has occurred, district councils help out were possible – in 2007 for example the major flooding in Gloucestershire resulted in several hundred tonnes of furniture, carpets etc being disposed of through the local authorities. In extreme examples such as 2007 the Government reimbursed councils some capital and revenue through ‘Flood Recovery Grant’ and ‘restoration fund’.”

She continues: “Insurance-wise, it is very much advised that the insurer should inspect the home first before anything that might lead to a claim is discarded. While kerbside bins can be used for some flood related waste, the scale of damage in flooding usually means skips, bulky waste pick-ups by the local authority, visits to the recycling centre or use of commercial waste firms. Costs to householders are usually recoverable through the claim.

Experience in Gloucestershire post 2007 was that some requests for service were still being made six to eight months later as insurance claims were settled. This makes it hard to determine the exact tonnages involves, but they were substantial enough to cause an obvious peak in tonnages for the initial month or so. 

Floods affected the Maidstone area when the rivers Medway and Stour overflowed and it also had to deal with resuming waste services after floods hit the town. A spokeswoman from Maidstone Borough Council says that residents’ usual recycling and refuse collections were largely unaffected during the flood period and the vast majority of collections were made as expected.

The Maidstone area was one of the first to be hit by the floods. As part of the post flood recovery process, Maidstone Borough Council had to remove debris and flood-damaged bulky goods free of charge for those residents and businesses affected by the floods. Crews with large vehicles were regularly attending affected areas to collect items such as damaged white goods and carpets. Residents could also contact the council to arrange the collection of used sandbags.

But can damaged items be recycled in anyway? Worcestershire County Council is a disposal authority. Waste services manager Richard Woodward says that it would be difficult to reuse damaged sofas, fridges and carpets. He says that some waste electrical and electronic equipments items could be used if they are broken up. However, there are also items damaged by default and hygiene issues to reconsider.

Giving advice to councils facing flood challenges, Woodward explains: “You have got to be adaptable at the time. You may want to relax permit systems for vehicles coming into HWRCs, shortly after the floods have taken place and relax the frequency of visit times.”

It seems that in most parts of the UK, floods did not affect waste and recycling services which is testament to the contingency plans local authorities put in place.

A spokeswoman from the Gloucester Joint Waste Team and Somerset Waste Partnership concludes: “Regarding contingencies for natural disasters, we have plans and communications strategies in place for dealing with severe weather, particularly around communicating to the public what can be expected if collections are missed. Somerset and Gloucestershire did a simultaneous ‘desk top’ exercise in mid-December using the same snow event scenario.

“This was to check readiness for distribution of messages, rearranging vehicle deployment (e.g. use of garden waste vehicles for catch up of general waste collections) and arranging staff overtime etc.

“More generally all councils have ‘civil contingency’ arrangements in place which kick in when we have extreme weather or a major incident.”

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