From the beginning of March 2020, when COVID-19 was confirmed as a pandemic by World Health Organization, many sectors across the UK had to respond to an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation, including the introduction of a UK-wide lockdown on the 23rd March. The resources and waste sector, as a frontline service that protects both human health and the environment, had to maintain operations and this necessitated contingency planning on an unforeseen scale, with significant cross-sector engagement and collaboration, and new methods of working.
To capture some of the learning from the first six months after the start of the UK-wide lockdown, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has been working in partnership with the University of Exeter to undertake a UK wide research exercise with multiple stakeholders across the resources and waste management sector. This forms part of a wider project led by the University of Exeter and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Rapid Response to COVID-19.
The study used a qualitative social science methodology, undertaking a series of workshops and in-depth interviews with representatives from across the sector. Participants included national and local government officers, environmental regulators, and local authority and private sector waste professionals. Held in October 2020, this stakeholder engagement exercise explored immediate challenges, winter preparedness, and what is needed to support longer term sector resilience.
It should be noted that this report is based on the discussions and feedback from sector representatives who generously took part. It is not designed to be a comprehensive assessment or account of the sector’s response but rather a snapshot in time during Autumn 2020 as the UK readied itself for the likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19 through the winter months. Much of the data and evidence that will be needed for a thorough assessment of the full impact of the pandemic on the sector is not yet available, but this report is designed to be a first step in the process to stimulate further reflection and learning.