Councils are to be given the authority to decide for themselves whether or not recycling centres should open.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots has written to the chief executives of each of the 11 councils, as well as NILGA and Arc21, with “five key principles to help them decide on any changes to waste services in a response to the Covid-19 emergency”.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is split on whether or not recycling centres should reopen – even on a phased basis.
Calls have been made for a special meeting to discuss the issue.
Earlier, SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon indicated council was poised to reopen but was awaiting the green light.
He said: “Council have agreed a managed plan on how to have the centres reopened, we just need the go-ahead from Stormont.”
That go-ahead has now been given.
Minister Poots said: “I recognise the vital importance that the waste sector plays in safeguarding public health, protecting the environment and servicing the economy.
“Waste and recycling services are critical public services and should be maintained as far as possible in order to protect the health of the Northern Ireland public from a build-up of waste; safeguard the important flow of materials, such as for food packaging; and deliver a low carbon circular economy agenda.
“With this in mind, I have now written to the councils, NILGA and Arc21, with a set of principles that they can apply when considering if it’s safe to re-open their household recycling facilities.”
In addition to the current principles, requirements and duties in waste, environmental and health protection legislation, the key principles are;
- Protection of human health and the environment. Protect human health (including the workforce collecting and processing waste material) and the environment from the adverse consequences of waste not being managed effectively (in line with the scientific assessment of the risks and health advice on the approaches that support the controlling of the spread of COVID-19).
- Social equity. Ensuring that proper account is taken of those needing support and those householders with limited storage capacity at their dwellings.
- Waste hierarchy. Manage waste in line with the waste hierarchy, in priority order: reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery, landfill, unless over-ridden by the need to protect human health and the environment.
- Resilience. Maintain the operation of a diverse range of facilities in order to provide resilience if key services are impacted or close down.
- Preservation of material flows. Ensure the flow of material to businesses that use recyclate, such as for food packaging, and derive energy from waste.
The Minister continued: “In addition to these principles, my Department has also issued associated non-statutory guidance. This guidance gives councils advice on steps that should be considered prior to re-opening, with safety and clear communications being the top priorities.
“I’d like once again, to thank the people who work in the waste sector for continuing to provide services to the public in such difficult circumstances.
“Those who have helped maintain kerbside collections, those responsible for municipal cleansing, the people working in our recycling centres, treatment plants, recovery facilities, those maintaining our disposal sites and to everyone working behind the scenes to make sure our waste is dealt with properly – thank you. The work you do helps to protect public health and the environment.”
The principles are applicable to all waste services but are currently focused on the issues around the closure of household waste recycling centres.