Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - overview of public engagement

This report outlines the themes emerging from a rapid analysis of the public engagement exercise on our approach to decision making with regard to changes to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown arrangements.

12. Environmental impacts

Many respondents on the platform highlighted how a series of environmental issues were connected to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. Some of the most discussed issues included:

  • Waste management (recycling and waste sites)
  • Hygiene in public spaces
  • Climate change

Waste management (including recycling)[21]

A central concern in many contributions centred around a lack of access to local waste and recycling sites. This resulted in a large consensus of support for suggestions that advocated the reopening of sites in local areas.

Many highlighted an observed increase in fly-tipping and expressed concerns that a combination of good weather and lockdown measures were contributing to large amounts of waste being generated from home improvement, DIY, and garden projects. There were also concerns that a lack of access to waste management services left the public vulnerable to a variety of vermin and health-related issues. As a result, there were some calls for these sites to be considered an "essential service".

"There's massive amounts of flytipping and rubbish being dumped in my local area. The dumps could be reopened with no effect on infection rates if properly managed. The amount of waste being dumped will cause health issues and vermin."

The feasibility of reopening waste and recycling sites in a safe way was debated. Concerns were expressed by some that reopening sites without a series of safety measures could lead to overcrowding and increased transmission risks. However, there was a shared belief among many respondents that sites could be managed with minimal risks - through physical distancing and PPE for staff.

"Would support reopening of recycling centres with appropriate guidance in place, including for example one person per vehicle. Reopening good for environment and trying to avoid unnecessary fly tipping."

"Normally when you go to the recycle centres you need to wait in a queue till someone is finished anyway to get your car in, so there is less risk here and minimum adjustments required."

Further practical suggestions to limit the site risks included:

  • establishing a pre-booking appointment system
  • operating a "one in, one out" system
  • limiting the number of cars/users allowed in at a time
  • having certain days for specific waste, e.g. garden waste on Tuesdays, electrical waste on Wednesday
  • providing staff with PPE

If it were not possible to reopen waste and recycling sites, some respondents suggested a solution could be to increase kerb-side waste collection. One idea called to reinstate normal kerbside collection with a perception that staff absence should now be low, although this was not a universal view.

"We must open recycle centres as soon as safely possible. Fly-tipping is becoming a major problem. Other possibility would be to increase kerb-side collections where possible, but I fully realise that this requires more resource use by local councils, and probably not possible at the moment."

Some pointed out the difficulties faced by those who do not have a car in accessing waste sites and highlighted that the needs of the non-driving population should be considered in waste management policy.

There was also discussion around the lockdown as an opportunity to clear up litter on road verges.

Hygiene in public spaces

A number of respondents on the platform expressed their desire for increased levels of disinfecting of public spaces and council property. Some discussed how transmission risks were high on streets that were not appropriately cleaned. Others focussed on particular items of council property - such as green and blue recycling bins, which they felt posed serious risks of transmission. There was particular concern that wheelie bins were often returned to different households within a council area.

"You are taking bins used by an average of 8 different families in a close, not cleaning them, then returning these bins to a different 8 families to use! How exactly can that not be spreading the virus?"

There was debate about how rigorously public spaces could be cleaned in Scotland, and whether this would be an effective prioritisation of public resources at this time. Some used international comparisons of rigorous street cleaning as a way of suggesting that Scotland could do more. There was also ideas that the Scottish Government should enforce hygiene standards on local authorities (e.g. a regular deep cleaning of bins and public utilities).

However, some respondents argued that large-scale local operations to 'deep clean' or 'disinfect' public spaces may not be possible due to lack of resources. These respondents highlighted the need for increased future resource for councils.

"Councils need more resources to clean more. Cleansing services have suffered from years of cuts due to the perceived higher importance of schools and social work."

Climate Change

Many respondents noted the way in which Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions had brought a series of benefits for the environment. Some respondents felt lockdown provided an "opportunity" for Scotland to propose more "radical" climate action policies and discussions about how to continue to sustain the environmental benefits of the current situation. In particular, there were comments supporting the extension of working from home, for example by incentivising employers. There were views that active travel could be continually encouraged to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. However, there was strong disagreement from a small number of respondents on these issues, who felt that this should not be a priority at this time.



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