How Waste Management Came to the Forefront During COVID-19

by Anders Hans Hinrichs

Waste collectors among essential workers

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the essential workers within our society. From healthcare workers to supermarket workers, and the previously unsung heroes of waste management. Across the globe, waste haulers came to terms with the public acknowledgement of their role as essential workers.

On 24 March 2020, the UN Environment Programme urged governments to “treat waste management, including of medical, household and other hazardous waste, as an urgent and essential public service in order to minimise possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment.”1

Waste management was deemed an essential public service in the fight against COVID-19. Of course, waste management was already considered to be an essential service, however COVID-19 heightened the importance of the continuity of these services due to their critical role in protecting public health.

Increase in hazardous and household waste

The continuity of waste management services during the pandemic was challenged by the increase of household and medical waste. Hazardous medical waste grew significantly in volume, with one report stating such waste increased by 600%, from 40 tons per day to 240 tons per day, during the COVID-19 outbreak in Hubei Province, People’s Republic of China.2

With people stuck at home due to lockdown guidelines across the globe, there was an unprecedented amount of free time to clean out our homes, perfect our sourdough recipes and finally get around to that renovation project which has been pushed aside for the last 10 years.

The closure of restaurants and takeaway options meant that people were also cooking at home more often. Add excessive panic buying into the mix, and the result was a significant increase of general household waste.

David Biderman, executive director and CEO of Solid Waste Association of North America, said that household waste volumes in the US increased by 5% up to an enormous 35%, depending on the location.3

General household waste in Philadelphia, US, increased by almost 25% during March and April compared with the same period in 2019.4 This equates to an extra 22,000 tons of waste.

Managing service continuity and safety of COVID-19 essential workers

With these rapid changes and unusual patterns in waste levels, haulers were left perplexed in regard to optimal collection schedules. Hauling companies also had the important consideration of health and safety measures for their workers on the ground.

A delicate balance had to be struck between ensuring the continuity of municipal waste management services (particularly due to heightened demand) and taking measures to protect the health and safety of waste collection workers.

So why was this such a struggle for municipalities? The answer lies in the lack of uptake of innovation in the waste management industry.

Municipalities suffered from two main challenges:

  • Ensuring the continuity of an essential service to protect public health whilst dealing with an unprecedented increase in the quantity of household waste, and
  • Making as few trips as possible so that employees were spending less time in the field and reducing their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Those that weren’t equipped with real-time data (and therefore didn’t have a clear understanding of the change in waste patterns) were forced to make more waste collection trips, putting their employees at a higher risk of exposure to the virus, as well as drastically increasing their daily operating costs.

With WasteHero’s waste management solution implemented, the safety risks and higher costs associated with the COVID-19 situation could have been largely avoided.

Benefits of smart waste management during a pandemic

Cities with implemented smart waste management solutions had data available at their fingertips to make proactive decisions and communicate their needs with waste haulers. Fill-level sensors and real-time data enabled municipalities to know when to act and collect waste, despite the highly unusual patterns that occurred during the height of the pandemic.

Dynamic route planning meant that haulers were deployed to collect waste only when necessary and on the most optimum route. This approach kept operational costs and the amount of time employees spent in the field at a minimum, without running the risk of overflowing containers that would pose a threat to public health.

A holistic waste management solution, like that of WasteHero, solves the problem of communication between the stakeholders of haulers, municipalities, and the general public. It ensures the wellbeing of citizens and waste management employees whilst reducing the costs and environmental impact associated with waste management.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities can now grasp the unfortunate reality of being a laggard in waste management innovations. Because of this, we will see a higher priority placed upon the improvement of processes and further investment into smart waste management solutions.

A recent report from Global Market Insights said that the Solid Waste Management market size was valued at over USD $1 trillion in 2019 and the annual capacity is anticipated to exceed 28 billion tons by 2026.5 Along with recent challenges brought about by COVID-19, the rise in global population and growing urbanization, the necessity of introducing smart and sustainable waste management solutions will be realised.

Future solution

WasteHero brings stakeholders together to create a sustainable and reliable waste management solution, both inside and outside of a pandemic. Our smart algorithms utilize real-time data from fill-level sensors to inform dynamic collection schedules, rather than relying on static collections that could leave cities with overflowing bins or have trucks undertaking unnecessary pickups of empty bins.

With the WasteHero solution, operational costs are cut and trucks spend less time on the roads, ultimately providing both economic and environmental benefits for cities and citizens.

While COVID-19 brought the challenges of waste management to the forefront, the improvement of processes will continue to be a priority for cities and businesses into the (near normal) future.

Want to know more? Talk to a WasteHero specialist today.

References:

1 https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/waste-management-essential-public-service-fight-beat-covid-19

2 https://www.sprep.org/attachments/Publications/WMPC/PWP/covid-19-medical-waste-alert.pdf

3 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/16/coronavirus-sanitation-workers-battle-higher-waste-levels.html

4 https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/philadelphia-coronavirus-covid-19-recycling-waste-management-trash-glass-20200518.html

5 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/solid-waste-management-exceeds-1-trillion-dollar-market-value-301077350.html

author
Written by

Anders Hans Hinrichs

Director of Business Development

  • WasteHero
  • Municipality
  • Innovation
  • Smart City
  • Future
  • Trash

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