Waste Collection in the Cotswolds – information sheet
The cancellation of the service has generated some queries from residents and this Q/A information sheet is based on responses we have provided in consultation with Ubico Ltd.
Why did CDC cancel all waste collections this week?
Regrettably, the Ubico management team and drivers (who have worked in waste collection for many years and are experienced at dealing with adverse weather conditions) have assessed that the main problem in the Cotswolds is the considerable amount of hard packed ice on side roads and paths/pavements, particularly in more rural areas.
Ubico have first hand experience of how dangerous it can be when a 26 tonne vehicle goes out of control on an icy surface. If the vehicle loses traction it may, at best, block off a road or junction. At worst, particularly on the slightest of inclines, it may become unstoppable and pose a very serious threat to public safety and property. There is also the health and welfare of Ubico staff to consider, especially since many footpaths across the district are so treacherous at the moment and make it difficult to carry heavy boxes full of glass and other sharp objects.
The decision to cancel services has at least clarified our plans this week and will assist residents by preventing them putting out waste at their kerbsides to no avail – in fact, bins and receptacles left at the kerbside for days can cause an unnecessary hazard. The decision to cancel was not taken lightly, and was only agreed once we had confirmed plans for emergency collection points and could be satisfied that we would have arrangements in place to cope with the demands of a double collection next time around.
All in all, this seemed to be the most sensible course of action when the decision was taken given the forecast of continuing sub zero temperatures and no significant ice melting by Friday 25 January.
Why can’t the Council just insist that Ubico carry out the waste collections in the snow?
The Council has a contract in place with Ubico that specifies the service it is entitled to receive from them. The Council cannot, through the contract with Ubico, insist that they carry out operations that they deem to be unsafe. Ubico are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and the general public in the performance of their work - the same applies to any other private company. The decision over when and how the company operates is a decision for Ubico Ltd. Having said that, the Council supports the decision that Ubico has made.
Why couldn’t Ubico have deployed its workers to do other tasks such as snow clearing or other collections in safer locations?
When Ubico staff are unable to work due to adverse weather conditions, some are retained to carry out tasks such as street cleaning if possible but most are sent home so that their hours can be banked. This means that when the double collections are due and large volumes of waste are presented, the additional hours the crews will need to work will be covered by the 'banked' hours, preventing the need for overtime payments – and saving taxpayers money.
Some people may argue that the crews should be assigned to other collection zones but experience has shown that these temporary changes are difficult to communicate when they cover a range of different areas and days, and they can create confusion rather than help matters. This approach can work when there are a limited number of collections have been disrupted but not with the current scale of disruption.
Why isn’t it easy to collect waste? - how do waste collections actually work across such a large district?
Because Cotswold is one of the largest and most rural districts in the country (approximately 450 square miles) we split it into two zones – North and South. We have five collection areas in each which we work through on Monday-Friday schedules. In so doing we are able to provide green waste and food waste collections across both zones on a weekly basis, and residual waste, cardboard (blue sack), mixed rigid plastics (white sack), and general recycling (black box) collections every fortnight. This represents a considerable amount of work for the crews to get through (typically six different tasks at each of approximately 40,000 houses across 125 parishes in the district.) Given the sheer scale of this operation, collections have to be planned meticulously. Ubico have to ensure crews can collect and sort all these types of waste over a two-week cycle along designated routes which have been calculated by evening out volumes of waste, travel time to and from the depot and disposal points, and the number of items which need to be handled. If villages are missed or it takes too long to collect waste, Ubico have catch-up arrangements to cater for those eventualities, but this is not feasible when there are a large number of disruptions over multiple days (such as the current cancellations.)
This has all happened before – have we learned any lessons?
Following severe waste collection disruptions caused by snow and ice a few years ago, the Council adopted a severe weather policy in 2010. The Policy states that we will catch up on a singular day’s missed collections due to inclement weather by providing an extra collection on the following Saturday. However, during multiple days of disruption Ubico and CDC will agree whether an emergency waste collection service should be implemented and decide on the most suitable locations (subject to being able to gain access to them safely.) If they decide to go ahead with this option, Ubico will not carry out catch-up collections and will arrange to pick up additional waste accumulated at homes on the following scheduled fortnightly date.
Everything we have done so far over the last week is in line with this policy. We always review it following any period of adverse weather and we will, of course, do so again soon to assess whether any improvements are feasible.
Why don’t we fit special winter tyres to our collection vehicles and equip the crews better so they can cope with these icy conditions as is done abroad?
In developing the severe weather policy, we did investigate options for winterising vehicles using winter tyres and providing crews with specific safety clothing. We concluded that, whilst snow tyres and chains may improve the ability of vehicles to access areas, there was still concern that staff may not be able to get to the depot to report for work. We were also concerned that safety clothing might not be sufficient to reduce the risk of staff falling on icy roads and payments - the risk of injury being increased when workers are lifting and carrying waste, especially glass for recycling. In addition winterising vehicles would require a significant financial investment which would be hard to justify in the UK due to the very limited risk of disruption due to bad weather.
When will this disruption end?
On the basis of the latest weather forecast we will resume normal collection on Monday.
In the meantime, any queries regarding CDC collections should be directed to the waste hotline on 01285 623 123.
Cotswold District Council, Trinity Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 1PX
Telephone: 01285 623 169