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Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

As with so much else across the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic is having an impact on waste disposal, increasing costs to the taxpayer.

Face masks, required to save human life, are destroying the environment. Research by finder.com, estimates that as many as 54 million are deliberately, or accidentally, discarded after single use every day, in roads, parks, rivers, stuck in trees and bushes, threatening birds and other wildlife, caught up in the straps.

Cllr Paul West, the Cabinet Member for Waste Services on Suffolk County Council,urges people to dispose of them in their householder’s residual waste bin, and not recycling bins. He also advises against anyone using their bare hands to pick up a stranger’s used mask because of the potential for cross-contamination:

“We’ve put advice on our Recycling website, but there needs to be a national awareness campaign, reminding everyone of the damage being done if face masks and other protective equipment, like plastic gloves, aren’t disposed of sensitively.”

The taxpayer is also picking up the cost of collecting waste from Lateral Flow Test sites, eventually ending up in the County’s Energy for Waste, “which costs around £90 per tonne to dispose of. But the main issue is logistics with so many different organisations, across a range of sites: the NHS, Environment Agency, DfE and Councils involved, as well as the cost of collection, as it’s likely to be a lot of light bags instead of heavy volumes in each truck.”

Waste from Vaccination Centres is, however, “the responsibility of the normal NHS clinical waste contractors, for secure disposal.”

Inevitably, adapting to these new demands reflects the importance of Suffolk’s long-held ambitions to create the Greenest County, and its continuing investment in improving access to its eleven recycling centres, managed by FCC Environment.

Attracting an average 27,000 visits a week in normal times, numbers virtually halved during the last year, following the introduction of a booking system to ensure social distancing during the pandemic. Now being upgraded, “to manage demand, getting more waste through in fewer visits, making it easier and quicker to make and amend bookings, up to a week in advance, and reducing potential queues on the Highway,” explains Cllr. West. Users are advised to wear sensible footwear, gloves and face coverings whilst on site.

Meanwhile, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, are planned:

“To provide an accurate count of vehicle numbers, recording how much time each vehicle is on site. We can then maximise site availability as well as develop new and existing sites to meet the needs of a rising local population.”

Data from the system, “will also assist in identifying rogue traders fraudulently using the free household waste service to dispose of trade waste. Tradespeople can use the sites at a very reasonable cost, based on what they dispose of, but some – by no means all – don’t comply, so the system will be able to identify frequent visitors. Our priority is fairness for legitimate householders.”

Cllr. West admits that illegally dumping trade waste, whether at the County’s centres or in rural or urban areas, is difficult to control all over the country. “The chances of getting caught, and the penalties, do not match the crime and is part of a wider discussion.”

As part of its continuing investment programme, Suffolk County Council (SCC) is also investigating the feasibility of replacing Haverhill’s current recycling centre, by building a new, bigger, facility at the town’s existing Waste Transfer Station, providing improved access, and reducing congestion. However, the existing operation would continue to take in waste from homes and businesses from parts of the West Suffolk council area, for bulking and transporting onwards for reprocessing.

Cllr. West says:

“This is an opportunity to improve the service, making it fit for purpose for many years to come, offering a more cost-effective solution for the Haverhill area. We are in discussion with stakeholders on the feasibility of these plans, which are supported by West Suffolk Council.”

Responsible for day to day management, FCC Environment’s Operations Director, Steve Longdon, comments:

“We are pleased to bring our knowledge and experience of operating nearly 100 local recycling centres in association with our clients across the country to support SCC in developing plans to design, build and operate a new, improved, facility.”

SCC is also celebrating that planning consent has been granted for major improvements to its Foxhall recycling centre, including the Re-use space, on the outskirts of Ipswich, following public consultation.

Cllr. West is delighted that “we have the green light to go ahead with the works later this year. They will have a significant impact, making it easier and more accessible for users, whilst also making it more efficient for emptying the large containers:

“The easier we make it for everyone to recycle, the better the outcome for our environment and the people of Suffolk.”