Coronavirus: Questions and Answers

Below are questions that we have been asked about waste and recycling services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Click on the + sign to see the answer for each question. And please bookmark the page as it will be updated as new questions are raised.

Local authorities in Surrey are working hard to keep collections running and so far, most are. However, if sickness increases some services may change or be suspended. Residents should check their local council website or follow them on social media for the latest news. Some temporary staff have already been trained and are ready to fill gaps should this happen.

Currently, only one collection service is suspended in Surrey. When services have been suspended, these have been the least crucial services – the priority is to maintain the most important services, such as food waste, household rubbish collections and clinical waste.

All Surrey community recycling centres (CRCs) will be open from 1 August, but some are only accepting certain types of waste.

Residents should only use the CRCs if they absolutely need to as social distancing measures mean the number of people allowed on sites at any one time is limited. Residents should check for the latest information before they travel as current opening arrangements are subject to change. Please see individual site information for further details.

For full information on opening dates and times, and waste types accepted at each site, please check Surrey County Council’s website.

The councils are working hard on contingency plans to make sure that services keep running as effectively as possible during this difficult and fast-moving time. Councils have been training up temporary staff so that they are ready to work if sickness does increase.

All our local councils are members of the Surrey Environment Partnership and have been working together to join up plans and share learning. We’ve also been communicating to our residents giving them tips on how they can help bin crews.

Residents can help their crews to help them by doing 6 things:

  • Reduce and reuse
    • Only buy food you need
    • Freeze food before it goes off
    • Cook or freeze leftovers
  • Recycle it right
    • Flatten and fold cardboard
    • Wash and squash plastic
    • Put the right things in the right bin using the Surrey Recycles search tool
  • Get composting
    • Reduced price compost bins are available on the SEP website
  • Make it easy to collect
    • Put bins out early and leave them until they’ve been collected
    • Park your car considerately on collection day
  • Care for your crew
    • Make sure bin lids are firmly closed so crews don’t have to touch waste
    • Wash your hands before and after touching bins
    • Give your crew a wave
  • Keep your clear-outs
    • Hold onto waste from clear-outs
    • Don’t leave items outside charity shops or recycling – this is fly-tipping
    • Don’t burn waste – it makes it harder for people to breathe

Residents experiencing coronavirus symptoms should put any personal waste, such as tissues or cleaning cloths, in a plastic bag, inside another plastic bag that should then be tied and kept inside for 72 hours before being put in the normal outside rubbish bin.

Bins are emptied on a two-week cycle and data for the two-week period ending 27 November indicated the volume of food waste and rubbish has increased by 18%.

We’re hoping that residents can help relieve pressure on bin crews by wasting as little as possible, compacting recycling and waste into bins and holding onto waste from clear-outs until services return to normal.

Very few recycling collection services have been suspended in Surrey at this time. However, where they have been, we’re asking residents to hold on to recycling until services resume. Most recycling collections are continuing as normal though, which means that it is continuing to be recycled.

Residents should continue to separate recycling as material is still being recycled. If recycling collections get suspended, follow your local council on social media or visit its website to find out what to do with it. And in the few areas where some of the less crucial recycling collections have been suspended, residents should hold onto waste until normal services resume.

Through the Surrey Environment Partnership, all councils in Surrey have adopted the guidance provided by the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (‘COVID-19 and waste management activities’) as a minimum. The guidance advises on how to maintain social distancing while carrying out collections, keeping good hygiene and how to safely manage working time when not on collections rounds.

All councils in Surrey have adopted the guidance provided by the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum on COVID-19 and waste management activities as a minimum. The guidance advises that drivers should travel alone in the vehicle where practical. Other crew members are advised to travel to meet drivers at the start of rounds, to only walk during collection rounds and to avoid taking breaks together.

We are working hard to maintain normal collections across the county under these challenging circumstances. Unfortunately, there isn’t capacity in the system for extra waste that residents would normally have taken to a CRC to be collected and doing that could lead to missed collections. It could also present further health and safety risks to our staff. So, we’re asking residents to hold on to any extra waste they have that currently can’t be taken to a CRC until they fully reopen.

It’s very important for the health and safety of the crews that bin lids are firmly closed. Residents should compact their waste as much as possible, wash and squash their recycling and try to reduce waste by only buying what they need.

If people are having a clear-out, we’d ask them to hold onto any extra waste they have that can’t currently be taken to a CRC until they fully reopen. Additionally, if residents are producing more garden waste than usual, they can compost it at home or use their local garden waste collection service where possible. Reduced rate compost bins are available from this page.

Fly-tipping tonnages and incidents both appear to have increased since lockdown measures were introduced to the UK compared to the 2020 average, although there are significant variations between councils. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions from fly-tipping data given that the tonnages are small in absolute terms and that there are seasonal changes in fly-tipping, which may make comparisons of data between different times of the year misleading.

We want to remind residents that fly-tipping is against the law and those convicted can face fines of up to £50,000 or twelve months in prison. We’ve also seen fly-tippers in Surrey have vehicles crushed and disqualified from driving.

There are no laws against having a bonfire, but there are laws for the nuisance they can cause. You cannot get rid of household waste if it will cause pollution or harm people’s health. This includes burning it.

We’d also ask that residents don’t burn garden waste. It causes pollution and if it causes a nuisance, can lead to a fine of up to £5,000. Instead we’d ask residents to either compost at home, use their local garden waste collection service where possible, or take it to a CRC – details of the current CRC service can be found on Surrey County Council’s website.

Reduced rate compost bins are available from this page.