At least one more challenge to industry posed by COVID-19

Sam Corp, Mar 4, 2021

Sam Corp, Head of Regulation at ESA, looks at the fresh challenges posed by COVID-19 to the recycling and waste sector as we enter 2021.

The New Year started with the introduction of another nation-wide lockdown as a new, more infectious, variant of the virus swept through the country – posing at least one last challenge to the economy, and to our sector, before any positive effects of a vaccine are felt.

The recycling and waste sector has, in the main, kept vital services operating effectively from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, having developed a comprehensive risk-mitigation strategy and safe-working protocols to protect frontline staff and limit transmission of the virus.

Operators and trade bodies, including the ESA and its members, built these effective structures early on in the pandemic, and this activity was supported through regular interaction with regulators, Government and the devolved administrations, which continues to this day, in the form of the bi-weekly Covid meetings that ESA attends with Defra and other stakeholders, and the dissemination of information from these meetings to members.

Our industry has shown its ability to adapt well through the various phases of this pandemic and, given the essential sanitation function provided by recycling and waste services, our members’ work must and will continue in the face of any tougher new restrictions. The valuable contribution ESA members have made, and the fortitude they have shown, during the pandemic has been noted by stakeholders across Defra and I would like to pass on their thanks once more to members.

Staffing, however, is the largest variable and risk factor in the challenge to maintain vital services. As with the first full lockdown in 2020, our sector has continued to keep a watchful eye on staffing levels – which at the time of writing are potentially facing their toughest challenge yet with a more infectious variant of the virus; more robust testing regime and the normal winter cold and flu season.

Operators and those they serve will undoubtedly need to maintain a flexible and pragmatic approach and, in the event of staff shortages, will have to prioritise certain activities to preserve basic sanitation, which might result in the temporary withdrawal of some services. In the meantime, the ESA continues to work with regulators and Government, both at a UK level and the devolved administrations, to ensure a pragmatic policy approach helps our members to keep services operating as effectively as possible in the circumstances.

If you have any comments or wish to provide us with more information to feed into our Covid pages on the members area, please do get in touch with Sam Corp (