Somerset Waste Partnership is asking householders to put their recycling and rubbish out early for at least the next month.
From Monday 1 February, collections will start at 6am rather than 7am to help crews cope with COVID-19 absences and to further protect staff.
Residents are urged to put containers out the night before collections, or before 6am at on the day.
Somerset Waste Partnership is also warning that it will not always be able to return for missed recycling and garden waste collections as more staff isolate in line with guidance.
The early starts are being introduced to further reduce staff numbers in depots at any one time – minimising any risk of contact between crew bubbles.
Set-off times are already staggered but this will spread them out over a longer period and give crews a head start with work that may take longer if staff are absent.
The 6am starts will be in place for a month but can be extended if needed.
Collection crews work in tightly-controlled team bubbles; the whole bubble isolates if a member tests positive, is in contact with someone who tests positive, or is symptomatic.
This means far higher staff absences than expected, plus unpredictable daily changes as teams isolate or return to work, and crews are reallocated to maintain services.
In the first three weeks of January, COVID-19 contributed to the loss of nearly 800 operational days, compared to 58 lost days in December.
This after a festive period where many staff worked extended hours to cope with an increase in waste of more than 50%.
Missed collections are usually returned for the following day, but this is becoming increasingly difficult.
Rubbish collections will not be affected, but recycling and garden waste could be.
Where crews cannot return the following day, people will need to take containers in until their next collection.
Mickey Green, managing director of SWP, said:
“Waste collection is an essential service and the safety of staff and public is paramount.
That means we need to keep the wheels turning while reducing risks and managing the demands we put on crews.”
A wide range of safety measures are already in place for staff, including working in bubbles, minimising contact with colleagues and customers, and use of PPE.
All staff are encouraged and helped to maintain high standards of hygiene and hand sanitisers is freely available at all locations and to crews on the move.
Depots have one-way systems and and screens, and there is a rigorous approach to tracing any contacts and isolating bubbles of staff should there be any risk of COVID-19.
Government guidance does not recommend face masks for the operational waste sector, but staff are supported if they choose to wear them, and it acknowledges that social distancing may not be possible inside vehicles.