Glasgow and Brighton Highlight Need for Resilience in Waste Sector
21 October 2021
At a time when the world’s media will have its sights set on Glasgow, host of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, the Scottish city is unfortunately making headlines for the wrong reasons. Photographs of piles of rubbish on the streets there have flooded social media over the last number of weeks due to a change in the frequency of waste collection, new fees for bulky lifts, and illegal waste disposal.
Similar scenes have occurred in Brighton where refuse bags, many stacked on top of already overflowing bins, are attracting rats, seagulls and foxes as refuse drivers are on strike. Both cases highlight the need for resilience in the waste sector as the consequences of a disruption to waste collection demonstrate not just a serious public health issue, but also the amount of waste we produce and the speed at which it rapidly becomes a problem. In April 2021, Glasgow City Council agreed to change the frequency of collections of black bins from every two weeks to every three weeks. Shortly after this, the Council introduced a £35 fee for the collection of large electrical items or groups of items. Council refuse collectors have since reported an increase in fly-tipping and an influx of vermin as a result. These workers have described the situation as an “environmental crisis.” When the world is watching Glasgow, it is unfortunate that the image projected shows the stark reality of a breakdown in waste management, how quickly things can unravel and the sheer amount of rubbish modern society produces. In Brighton, a number of refuse and recycling lorry drivers who are members of the GMB union had been taking part in strike action due to a dispute with Brighton & Hove City Council over pay and conditions. Up to 54 members of staff were on strike for many weeks which has resulted in a backlog of waste which the council has confirmed, will take weeks to clear. Residents have reported that rubbish rotting in piled up bin bags on the streets of the city are creating a pungent smell and attracting vermin. arc21’s Acting Chief Executive, Tim Walker, said, “The situations in Glasgow and Brighton have highlighted the need to have resilience in waste management. In the era of the climate crisis and growing political uncertainties, the number of exceptional circumstances we will need to manage will only increase. Resilient Infrastructure is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – our waste management infrastructure needs to be resilient to be able to cope with exceptional circumstances such as those in Glasgow and Brighton when disruptions occur and sudden, large volumes of waste need to be managed safely and reliably. “These scenes are reminiscent of the waste crisis in Naples in 2008, when waste operatives ceased collecting rubbish as disposal centres were full and the incinerator that should have been ready for use was not. The lack of modern waste management infrastructure in Naples at the time greatly contributed to this crisis. “In Northern Ireland, our waste sector is also exposed due to its over-reliance on landfilling and exporting waste. Households within the arc21 region produce 15 million black bins worth of residual, non-recyclable waste every year. If there was a break down in our waste infrastructure “supply chain”, what would happen to this rubbish? The best way to address our lack of resilience is to address the clear gaps in our waste infrastructure by building new facilities.”