UNTHA UK’s Marcus Brew Discuss the Impact of Coronavirus on the Waste Industry : OPINION: COVID-19 – What’s the Waste Industry Prognosis?

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As the UK adjusts to a ‘new normal’ in the wake of the Government’s latest lockdown announcement, it will be difficult for some organisations to concentrate on anything beyond the next few days. But there are glimmers of hope in the medium to long term, suggests Marcus Brew, managing director of UNTHA UK

Some people are already tired of reading about COVID-19, not least because they’re mindful of their mental health during these worrying and uncertain times. Others can’t get enough of the headlines, and have found themselves seemingly obsessed with every nugget of news or development to come not just from Westminster, but broadcasting outlets worldwide.

At this undoubtedly overwhelming time, many would therefore consider it dismissive if not ignorant to think about anything other than what is going to happen over the next few days. But – and this is not meant to sound trite – we have to keep pressing forward. We must keep an eye on the long game too. We need to maintain a degree of foresight, focus and faith.

What’s Happened at UNTHA UK?

Firstly, the good news is that we’re still here. It’s a really challenging and difficult time for us at the moment, so it’s a positive thing that we’re continuing to operate business as usual – well, unusual.

In terms of immediate impact on the way we work, luckily we’ve invested a six-figure sumin our IT systems over the years, which has massively helped the transition to working from home. We never thought it would be for an event such as this, but our ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ mantra is now enabling us to work effectively. We’ve all got access to the same data and resources as we would have if we were in the office, so I’ve every hope that we can maintain the standards customers have come to expect.

Perhaps unsurprisingly we’re relying on technology to keep in touch as much as we possibly can. Our shredder experts are still consulting with new and existing customers about their waste, recycling and alternative fuel production operations, using virtual meetings. Our engineers have long remained warehouse-based and observing safe distancing from each other, and home working is also now in place.

As part of a global organisation, we’re in ongoing talks with our colleagues who have been affected to varying degrees, to offer our support where we can. Being part of a large international business means 2020 probably won’t be the year we had planned for, but it does offer us some flexibility when it comes to maintaining supply chain continuity – certainly while manufacturing continues at our Austrian HQ.

Demand for new machinery has naturally taken a hit as people delay their decision making until they have some certainty over how the next few weeks will pan out. But people are aware that this won’t last forever, and the Government’s financial and legislative measures to help businesses get through this difficult time – such as a 12-month VAT deferment on all purchases and low interest rates – means some firms are actually pressing ahead with their conversations with us.

A New Normal for Businesses

When the dust settles on the turbulence of the ever-changing business community it is possible that we will learn from this albeit difficult period and establish a new normal which brings some positives, not just pain.

Now is the time to think about where tech can ease some of the day to day admin burdens experienced within organisations, for example. Remote working will show us how efficient organisations can be, even when colleagues and customers are dotted all over the country. There should even be a carbon reduction benefit!

Having sadly had to postpone our first shredder showcase of the year, we’re already in the process of preparing a series of webinars to ensure the ‘show goes on’ when it comes to our 2020 events. Let’s be creative – communication, learning and networking needn’t grind to a halt.

And if we weather this storm together, it should foster a newfound sense of camaraderie too – not to mention a resilience and even appetite for change – which should equip businesses with more agility moving forward.

Can the Environmental Sector Battle the Virus?

It would be naïve to think that environmental objectives will be everyone’s top priority right now. Households are battling with childcare and income worries, while their employers are concentrating on business continuity and – for some – survival.

This is of course a shame given sustainability had grown to become such a hot topic, certainly in the UK. But right now, all eyes must be on the safety of the nation.

That said, some environmental positives could come from this awful time. Pollution is already reported to be falling, for example,as there are less vehicles undertaking journeys from A to B. So, if we keep rethinking the need to always be on the road –to continue the point made above about virtual meetings – could at least a proportion of this carbon reduction be maintained?

While the headlines have recently been dominated with ridiculous reports of panic buying, a newfound respect for the resources we ordinarily take for granted could emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, a number of social media conversations have already started highlighting this trend. So, hopefully we’ll all stop disregarding what we consume, try to do more with less, and ultimately, aim to prevent the creation of some waste, at source.

While we’ve never been wholly against the export of resources such as RDF and SRF – when demand exists elsewhere and not within our own country – perhaps this whole experience could even go some way to encouraging us to become more self-sufficient and resource secure as a nation, certainly when it comes to renewable energy.

In terms of the role that our sector plays in the wider economy, it was incredibly encouraging to read that waste disposal personnel have been classified by the Government as ‘key workers’ – and rightly so, too. For too long the efforts of the people who handle the UK’s commercial, industrial and domestic waste – to ensure we move towards a greener, more resource-secure future – have gone largely unnoticed. Let’s hope that stops today.

And finally, it is important to note that –while it may not dominate the headlines at present – the environmental sector has not ground to a halt. Some significant shredder sales have still been secured in the last ten days alone for example, which is testament to the headstrong focus of many operators, particularly those manufacturing renewable fuels. These visionary industry leaders will prove crucial to the ongoing success of the sector. Their eyes are on the all-important long game and we’re glad to be a part of it.

Let’s Hope…

Of course, COVID19 is all the more frightening because we have no way of truly knowing when this pandemic will be under control. Nobody has a crystal ball so all we can do at the moment is follow official guidance, trust in the action we must take, and hope.

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