CIWM and the University of Exeter have today published a report on the UK resources and waste sector response and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK Waste Sector COVID-19 Response and Resilience Report draws on feedback from stakeholders across the sector, including relevant departments in the four UK governments, environmental regulators, local authority, private and healthcare sector professionals, third sector representatives, and Health & Safety experts.
The research, which sets out a number of immediate and longer-term learning and recommendations, explored a range of areas critical to maintaining sector resilience, including:
- contingency planning, key stakeholder engagement, guidance and communications;
- service delivery, including early warning of disruption and how the sector was affected by COVID-19 policy measures – such as key worker status and regulatory easements;
- staffing and resources, including staff absence and redeployment, and operational Health & Safety considerations;
- access to data; and
- ongoing economic and environmental impacts.
“There is no doubt that 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for the resources and waste sector, as well as many others. The entire supply chain has had to manage unprecedented levels of uncertainty, react to multiple and different pressures, and maintain services and supply chains that are critical to the protection of public health and the environment, as well as keeping valuable resources in use,” says CIWM President Trevor Nicoll.
“Overall, however, stakeholders felt that the sector has shown a good level of resilience, although it was recognised that certain parts have and will continue to see significant disruption. People and the value of the collaborative working that has taken place was highlighted throughout as one of the real positives of 2020, from collection crews going the extra mile to maintain vital and valued services to cross-sector information sharing and contingency planning at the highest strategic level.
“The pandemic is far from over though and this research was carried out during October 2020 and provides a snapshot in time in what continues to be a fluid and uncertain situation. It is not designed to be comprehensive but is based on feedback from people working across the sector who spared us their time to reflect back on the first six months of the pandemic and think about what the sector needs to be more resilient going forward. We hope it will be a useful starting point and will stimulate further reflection and learning in the months ahead as we continue to respond to the pandemic.”
The report also forms part of a larger COVID-19 Waste Project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UKRI’s Rapid Response to COVID-19. In partnership with CIWM, the project is led by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, King’s College London, and the Open University. The COVID-19 Waste Project is investigating how the sector is responding to the pandemic across all UK countries, and includes the analysis of operations, guidance, policy, communications, and cross-sectoral collaboration. It aims to generate data, resources, and a more detailed report (in June 2021), that assesses the impacts of COVID-19 and informs plans to build future resilience.
Dr Angeliki Balayannis from the University of Exeter added:
“The resources and waste sector is one of the most important, and yet taken for granted, sectors within the UK economy. COVID-19 has highlighted the pivotal role of the workers who maintain this critical infrastructure. This report represents the capacity of the sector to assemble around common concerns, not only to respond to COVID-19, but also to imagine what a more resilient and sustainable sector might entail in the future.”