Air Pollution: Coronavirus

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 21st July 2020.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of trends in the level of air pollution caused by the incineration of recyclable waste during the covid-19 lockdown.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This is a devolved matter and the information provided therefore relates to England only.

Energy from waste plants are regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) and must comply with the strict emission limits set down in legislation. Permit conditions are set based on a range and mix of waste arisings and plants are designed with abatement technologies that enable them to handle and treat a range of wastes. It is currently understood that no operators have reported issues with meeting emission limits due to any change in recyclable waste input during the Covid-19 lockdown.

With our Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG), we ran a rapid Call for Evidence to ensure we can more fully understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on air pollutant emissions, concentrations and human exposure. This report was published on 1 July. Improving air quality remains a top priority for the Government and, especially during these unprecedented times, we will continue to take robust and comprehensive action to improve air quality in the UK and minimise public health impacts.

Defra has worked with local government, other Government departments and the waste industry to produce and publish guidance to help local authorities manage their waste collection services and household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) during the Covid-19 outbreak. The guidance on reopening HWRCs was developed in conjunction with Public Health England and the Home Office and sets out how to operate HWRCs in a way that protects human health while maintaining safe systems of working. The HWRC guidance is available at:

Since publication of our guidance nearly all local authorities are now able to offer a HWRC service and local householders can make trips to these sites as needed. Weekly surveys indicate that, due to the hard work of those in the sector, nearly all English authorities are operating household waste collections as normal, with only a small percentage reporting minor disruption.

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