Assessing the Risk of Disruption to Waste Collection Services in Scotland


There is a real threat of industrial action by the public cleansing and waste collection sector in 16 of the 32 councils in Scotland within the next month. Edinburgh has announced it plans to take action during the Edinburgh Festival. 

Two years ago, a bin strike was held for 12 days over the Edinburgh Festival, which led to an enormous backlog of waste littering the capital’s streets. Whilst strikes may still be averted, organisations should consider early preparations for what could be an unpleasant disruption with potential health implications for staff and customers.

As evidenced by events in Italy throughout the last decade, disrupted waste collection poses significant risks to businesses, potentially leading to a cascade of operational and reputational issues. Firstly, the immediate impact is the accumulation of waste, which can create unsanitary and unsafe working conditions. This can result in employee health hazards, increased absenteeism, and potential regulatory fines for non-compliance with health and safety standards.

Operational efficiency is another concern. Overflowing waste can obstruct workflows, particularly in manufacturing and food processing industries, where hygiene and clear spaces are paramount. Delays in production and potential shutdowns can disrupt supply chains, leading to missed deadlines and lost revenue.

Additionally, businesses risk reputational damage. Customers and clients visiting premises affected by waste issues may perceive the business as unprofessional or neglectful, damaging trust and brand image. This is particularly detrimental in sectors where cleanliness is crucial, such as hospitality, healthcare, and food services.

Furthermore, environmental regulations impose strict waste management standards. Non-compliance due to disrupted collection services can result in hefty fines and legal battles, further straining financial resources.

There is the problem, but how can you mitigate the risk? 

Here are a few ways to prepare your business for dealing with disrupted waste collection:

  • Reduce waste generation.  Through the implementation of waste reduction strategies such as reducing packaging, encouraging the use of reusable materials, and minimising excess production. Conducting audits of waste streams will allow the business to identify opportunities for waste reduction and improve efficiency.
  • Improve waste segregation and storage.  By improving the sorting of waste (e.g., recyclables, organic waste, hazardous materials) there is less cross-contamination and it makes materials easier to handle. Equipment such as compactors or simply flattening packaging can help maximise capacity.
  • Identify alternative waste collection services.  There is likely to be competition for such services during a pan-sector disruption so arranging contracts early may place you at the front of the queue. Temporary contracts should be reviewed and enacted in good time.
  • Optimise waste processing and recycling. Not only will this help during a collection disruption, but it is good for the environment and may improve your business’ reputation.  Consider installing compactors, shredders, or balers to reduce the volume of waste and facilitate easier storage and transport. Encourage employees to recycle and compost waste, reducing the volume of waste requiring collection.
  • Implement contingency plans and communication strategies. Spending time in advance developing plans for waste management during collection disruptions, including alternative disposal methods and emergency contacts. Keep employees, customers, and waste management partners informed about any disruptions and the measures being taken to address them.
  • Reduce staff members at your premises. Sometimes the simplest options are the most effective. If the nature of your business supports working from home, then reducing the number of staff in the office will reduce the amount of waste generated and minimise the impacts of waste build-up. Conversely, if peoples’ home waste collection is an issue then your employees may appreciate being given extra time or flexibility to manage the issue.
  • Use reusable containers. Encourage staff to use reusable items when bringing food and drink to the workplace.  Coffee shops will gladly fill your flask rather than provide another disposable cup which all helps to minimise additional waste.

In conclusion, consistent waste collection is vital for maintaining operational continuity, safeguarding employee health, and upholding a positive business reputation. Proactive measures, such as contingency planning and seeking reliable waste management partners, are essential to mitigate these risks.

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