Veolia use Brexit excuse as rubbish service goes up in smoke

Croydon Council has confirmed what residents and environmental activists have observed and warned about for years: much of the waste sorted for recycling in the borough is being sent straight to the Beddington Lane incinerator and burnt.

Veolia’s latest excuse for poor recycling rates is that they have failed to manage their driver staff

The council, and neighbours Sutton and Merton, two other members of the unaccountable South London Waste Partnership, have admitted that rubbish contractors Veolia have abandoned the pretence of collection waste for recycling, using the shortage of trained lorry drivers because of Brexit as their excuse.

Why the councils have not opted to fine or penalise Veolia in any way for this failure to manage their staffing requirements adequately, as required under their multi-million-pound contracts, has not been explained.

Veolia has also been claiming a lack of HGV drivers is affecting their ever more unreliable waste collection services around Croydon.

Following an announcement from Merton, Croydon and Sutton councils have now said that recycling at some blocks of flats would be burnt because the shortages were causing issues to bin collection schedules.

Each of the four SLWP boroughs – the other is Kingston – pays Viridor £10million per year under a 25-year contract to burn their waste.

And now they will be providing the incinerator with even more fuel.

Sutton said it had “regrettably” stopped picking up recycling in communal bins so they could “collect the overwhelming majority of recycling in the borough”.

Our exclusive report last year revealed unsegregated rubbish on the floor of the ‘sorting’ hall at the Beddington incinerator

They said: “There is a national shortage of HGV drivers which has severely reduced the number of bin and recycling crews available across Sutton and beyond.

“We have taken the decision to protect refuse and recycling collections across the borough rather than reduce the collection frequency as some other councils are doing.

“Regrettably, this means we have temporarily stopped picking up recycling from communal bins. This is because they are often contaminated with non-recyclable waste, meaning we need to send a second crew to pick up and dispose of the waste that cannot be recycled.

“By doing this, we can continue to collect the overwhelming majority of recycling across the borough.”

A SLWP spokesperson said, “Since June our recycling and refuse collection crews have been working hard to minimise disruption caused by a severe nationwide shortage of HGV drivers.

“Co-collecting recycling and refuse from communal flats is one of the first business continuity measures that is implemented. Of all the possible things we could do, this one has the least impact on our recycling rate as unfortunately much of the recycling we collect from communal flats is contaminated.”

See that: blaming the customers, the first line of defence adopted by Veolia and the councils, for an obviously flawed self-sorting system that they devised and implemented, apparently in the hope that  it would break down and fail, allowing them to shovel as much rubbish into the incinerator as they can manage.

The HGV driver shortage has already caused disruption in supermarkets, with shoppers facing food shortages. Many businesses have reported problems in recent months, leaving some shop shelves empty, or forcing restaurants to remove items from their menus.

Demanding: the Beddington incinerator requires millions of tons of rubbish to keep it fuelled

But residents across south London also suspect that the driver shortage is simply the latest excuse behind the SLWP boroughs’ rapidly declining rates of recycling, as the Viridor-operated Beddington incinerator demands ever-more waste to keep its furnaces at full throttle.

Since the polluting incinerator was first fired up as operational, lorry-loads of what was supposed to go for recycling have been diverted to the gates of the incinerator after being deemed to be in some way “contaminated”.

Meanwhile, residents have frequently observed their carefully sorted plastic recycling being lobbed in with general waste, destined for incineration, when the Veolia bin men have visited their streets.

Last year, Inside Croydon discovered serious issues in the sorting hall at the Viridor incinerator, where domestic rubbish was apparently mixed with clinical waste.

And one enterprising resident even placed electronic tags in waste deposited for recycling in street bins in Merton, and tracked it all the way to the Beddington Lane incinerator.

“The council spends more time trying to defend the contractor rather than improving the service,” Croydon Green Party campaigner Peter Underwood told Sky News.

“They have admitted it now because of the HGV shortages.

“They are taking a shortcut and the easy option. Residents are furious and feel let down by the council.” He could have said “again”.

“The incinerator in Beddington burns over London and burning plastics will make the air worse.”

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15 Responses to Veolia use Brexit excuse as rubbish service goes up in smoke

  1. Does this mean there is no point splitting up your waste if it’s all going into the same incinerator? Croydon Council should tell residents what the fuck is going on here.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    Brexit was voted for 5 years ago. The UK had long been expected to leave the European Union at 11pm on 29 March 2019. It was known that there would be a lot of skills shortages as many overseas driver were employed as opposed to training people here. It was known that HGV training of Nationals not affected by Brexit would be needed among other mitigation methods. They has a couple of extra years to prepare. There is now a National shortage of HGV drivers.

    So what exactly has the Company been doing? Who is contract managing this? Has it even been contract managed? Was the Contract fit for purpose? Who set this up and allowed such a public service shambles?
    More interestingly as more is being burnt how much is this costing us in money and pollution?
    We already know this plant is the most polluting one Viridor has. It appears this may be due to Council and not Company activity.

    So who took this decision at Croydon Council?

    There is a really bad smell about Fell road and it is not coming on the wind from Beddington Farm!

  3. Ron West says:

    Nothing to do with Brexit – the Germans and Poles have severe HGV driver shortages too. The main reason for lack of drivers is that lockdown inactivity and furlough payments has shown many HGV drivers that they can switch to earning much more whilst doing much less arduous work, and they aren’t going back.

    • That’s your opinion. Veolia blame Brexit for their own inability to manage their staff recruitment and retention.

      • jackgriffin1933 says:

        There were 60,000 HGV vacancies before Brexit, and it’s a pan-European (if not global ) issue. For instance, the Germans are 45,000 drivers short and the US and Aussies are reporting problems too.

        The pandemic exposed these shortages owing to the explosion in demand for deliveries. Plus the DVLA, again because of the pandemic, has a backlog of 10s of thousands of licence and test applications to process.

        The main issue is low wages (train drivers get two to three times that of HGVs), poor conditions, heavy regulation, high owner-operator costs, tiny margins, IR35; and a lack of investment in training and retention by industry.

        The older guys have had said “stuff it”, and there’s insufficient entrants as a result of the indifferent Ts & Cs above.

        Any European drivers in the UK that have left (whether for Brexit or Covid reasons) were simply papering over the cracks.

        • Yes. And Veolia, the SLWP and the councils have cited Brexit as their excuse.

          These are people and organisations which are less than trustworthy over their emissions figures. You wouldn’t expect them to be truthful in other respects.

    • Like most things, this issue is neither ‘nothing to do with Brexit’ nor ‘everything to do with Brexit’ but somewhere in between. It’s true that Covid has had an impact and this has been felt in EU countries too. However, Brexit has made it much more difficult to adapt to these shocks due to the inflexibility of to the labour market now. In addition, drivers have been reluctant to come to the UK due to the uncertainty of being able to return with a load due to the additional Post-Brexit export and customs red tape.

      So whilst Germany and Poland have had HGV driver shortages too, they’ve been able to adjust to the situation much easier and hence haven’t seen widespread empty shelves or critical driver shortages on refuse collection.

    • Dan Maertens says:

      Well, not quite true. There’s an interesting piece that is a direct counterpoint to the nonsense trumped out by government sources and parroted by the daily comics who dare not utter the ‘B’ word. I’ve included the relevant parts with a link to the full article below.

      An article published today for Trans.INFO includes some commentary from Michael Clover, Transport Intelligence’s Head Of Commercial Development. After being asked the question regarding the driver shortages in Poland and the apparent disparity in supply chain disruption compared to Great Britain, Mr Clover explained that post-Brexit changes have been an additional factor for UK supply chains. Besides the movement of drivers from the UK to the EU caused by coronavirus and Brexit, Mr Clover said the drop in the number of cabotage transports conducted in Britain post-Brexit has reduced capacity and presented extra challenges.

      “The most obvious reasons why there’s such a difference between, for example, the UK situation and the situation in continental Europe, are the changes with Brexit and so on and the decline in the number of international drivers, as well as the use of cabotage operations to supplement the overall demand. In the UK, at the very time when we need even more capacity in the market in terms of lorry drivers, and the use of international drivers, the global supply chain system has been in a state of dysfunction to some degree. It’s obviously something that many other European countries are dealing with too. But when we look at the port disruption that we’ve had in the UK, like the situation around Felixstowe and Harwich for the last year or so, it’s clear the UK faces a range of challenges that have made the UK’s supply chain situation more severe than other European countries.

      There’s also been a lot of disruption with trans-shipments from Rotterdam, Antwerp or other European ports, while there’s a need for drivers to make those trips from the European ports across to the UK. That has obviously been disrupted by the regulations that need to be attended to in terms of crossing the channel, including COVID testing and new Brexit related paperwork. So it’s those factors that have made things so acute in the UK market.

      If we look at the European markets, and take Poland, for example, there’s also a lot of drivers who’ve obviously gone abroad to undertake work in Western European markets where the wages are higher and the rates are higher. So there’s that flight of people with this skill from those countries as well, which is why we see a shortfall in places like that. On the other hand, at the same time, obviously, they’re able to supplement it with the international drivers who can come in and undertake loads to take pressure off domestic capacity. Therefore, it’s somewhat offset, which is not really the case in the UK market anymore.”

      Mr Clover then told Trans.INFO that as typically around 4-5% of total volume is transported by cabotage, any loss of this capacity can make a significant difference:

      “If we look at the figures, around 4-5% of total volume is being moved by cabotage. So that’s part of it, that makes a big difference to the capacity of the market. Also, I think we found that between 15,000 and 25,000 drivers or so have left the UK as EU nationals have returned to their home market. That extra capacity has gone out of the market in the UK as well. So there’s that disruption which has really hurt the UK situation too. Obviously, that’s not something which is a problem in the EU itself now.

      I think we also have to consider that, obviously, there’s always been a disparity and a trade imbalance between the UK and the European continent. So, there would have to be quite a strong incentive to make it more worthwhile to send your trucks across into the UK, even a couple of extra trips within the UK market, to make what would probably be an empty load back worthwhile.

      The fact that there’s a driver shortage and high demand across the rest of Europe, moving your capacity into the UK market and then not having a load coming back, or 60% not having a load back, is not very appealing for many companies. What would change things, however, would be those freight rates on the load into the UK being high enough to balance out the fact that there’s no backload. I think that’s more likely to incentivize more companies to do it.”

      Given the UK Government is currently ruling out a visa scheme for foreign drivers, and neither are there any plans to relax cabotage regulations while newly qualified UK drivers step in to fill the gap, it looks like this we’ll be with this ‘Brexit bonus’ for quite a while longer.


  4. David Turner says:

    It didn’t take the brain of Britain to work this out!

  5. Eve Tullett says:

    Walk down any street in Croydon for the last 10 years and it’s been full of discarded rubbish so I doubt this actually makes any difference to the majority of residents. It never used to be this way. The Veolia issue is just the cherry on the cake.

  6. Lewis White says:

    The shrivelled cherry on the mouldy cake?

    • I looked. The cherry has disappeared and is probably with the Fairfield Sculpture. The mouldy cake has been dusted down, given a new coat of white (wash or marzipan) and presented as a new cabinet. This is Croydon, after all.

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