Essex County Council has rejected calls to introduce a booking system for recycling centres, arguing it would be too complicated.

Following the reopening of 15 recycling centres in Essex on Monday, May 15, there have been hour-long queues in Colchester, while in Pitsea there were reports of three hour waits .

And with this in mind Labour councillors requested a booking system be put in place to avoid long queues.

“The council’s plan to appeal to people’s common sense was always bound to fail in our opinion,” said a letter signed by six Labour members.

However the council has said that operationally and technically the system could not be implemented.

As the bank holiday weekend approaches – traditionally the time for a spring clear out – the council is instead repeating the call for residents to make a decision if the household waste they have really needs to go to the recycling centre right now, or if it can be stored safely until recycling centres return to normal.

If it does need to go to the recycling centre, residents must be aware there will be a long wait.

Responding to the Labour councillors’ request Cllr Simon Walsh, cabinet member for the environment and climate change action, said: “I am of course aware that a few sites have had  lengthy waiting times for residents to access the Recycling Centres for Household Waste service.

“Although this is not unheard of at weekends or bank holidays, it is not something we generally see during the week. We however anticipate that this will remain a short term issue whilst residents return to a more normal mode of life, and have disposed of the waste that have built up over the last eight weeks. The many kerb-side waste collection services that were suspended are now also coming back online which will further alleviate these problems.

“We did carefully consider a booking system prior to the remobilisation.  The reasons for not progressing with a booking system were both operational and technical.

“Although the operation of a booking system can help with site queues it rarely eradicates them, unless access to the service is severely restricted.  Although booking systems can limit the number of authorised users coming to the sites, a number of unauthorised users will attempt to access the service which not only slows user throughput whilst checks are undertaken, but also increases the risk of on-site confrontation.”

He said it would also not be viable to limit the time authorised users spend on site.

“With users spending anything from five minutes to more than one hour on site unloading their waste a booking system will still lead to queues through the day,” he added.

“Where a booking system is used to minimise queues it will lead to significant restrictions in the number of users that can be accommodated in a day to accommodate the varying unloading times and ensure booking slots are met.  In the small number of areas where booking systems have been deployed sites have often had to limit their visitor numbers to less than 300 per day.

“The approach we have adopted in Essex has ensured the maximum number of users can be accommodated per day on every site we have opened.

“In addition, the RCHW service, under normal busy weekend operations, will handle in excess of 20,000 visits a day.  The development, testing and deployment of a system with the capacity to handle such a requirement would have significantly delayed  the mobilisation of the service.   I am sure you will agree it was important to get the service up and running as quickly as possible for the benefit of Essex residents.”

The council says the safest way to get rid of your waste and recycling is using your kerbside collection. A visit to a recycling centre is only essential where there is no alternative available.

Any residents showing symptoms of Covid-19, self-isolating or shielding should not visit any recycling centre and should follow advice from Public Health England.

Cllr Walsh, added: “The opening of the recycling centres has gone better than we expected because of your help.

“Reports coming back to me have been very positive, with users and staff saying it’s generally all going well, despite being very busy.

“I want to thank the people of Essex for their patience whilst we got ready to reopen the county’s recycling centres. A good deal of work was needed to ensure social distancing could safely be achieved. This involved marking out the parking bays, painting footprints on the ground to indicate where users can stand when depositing their waste, and 1,000 extra information signs.”

He added: “Our priority remains the same – we must ensure the safety of residents and site staff, which is why a number of recycling centres are unable to reopen at this time.

“Now we have the bank holiday upon us. I want to repeat my call for residents to make a judgement on whether they really need to visit a recycling centre.

“There will be queues. I would urge, if you are able, to wait a little while longer as the sites will become less busy, and this will make your visit a better experience for you. If you can dispose of your rubbish using the kerbside collections, then please do so, and only consider using the recycling centre if the waste you have is becoming hazardous or is a safety issue.

“I must stress the importance of only making an essential visit when absolutely necessary. By coming to the sites you’re adding to local traffic and in some cases preventing people being able to get to businesses and shops.”