Press Release
18 December 2020

Research into the resources and waste sector’s COVID-19 response highlights a collective will to overcome the challenges

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.”

You can find the full report here. 


CIWM Trustees have also offered further comment and perspectives as follows:

Dr Adam Read, Suez & CIWM Senior Vice President

“2020 really was an interesting year for all of us, but we adapted and learned together. The positivity of our frontline staff to adapt to changing circumstances and guidance has been acknowledged through this work, whilst their engagement with householders has been a real highlight in driving recycling up and keeping spirits high. The ongoing collaborative spirit developed during lockdown offers us a great deal of hope for how we can deal with future shocks / pandemics and build our sector’s resilience as we look to deliver a green recovery together with our customers, public and private sector alike. 

“Looking forward, we must heed the lessons from 2020 and ensure that ongoing local lockdown measures and future restrictions on specific sectors do not have unintended consequences for our services, sites and staff. Continuing the high-level government, industry and key stakeholder meetings that were so successful during 2020 to share insights, understand problems, and build consensus on likely next steps is critical for ensuring we can move forward together in any future crisis.”

Lyndon Ward, Managing Director, Forward Waste

“Positively, it is people’s response to the pandemic that have enabled the commercial waste and resource sector to operate in what have been often difficult and unpredictable times this year – the “can do” approach from colleagues, customers and supply chain partners has enabled us to continue to exceed expectation.

“In terms of future resilience, a significant problem in C&I waste and resource management this year has been setting investment strategies to reflect customer sector demand during the pandemic, with some markets disrupted and others performing beyond expectations. Capital investment and major infrastructure decisions are, therefore, having to be made against the combined backdrop of COVID- 19, EU Exit and wider geopolitics.”

Notes to Editors:

1.    CIWM: CIWM is the leading professional body for the resource and waste management sector representing around 5,700 individuals in the UK, Ireland and overseas. Established in 1898, CIWM is a non-profit making organisation, dedicated to the promotion of professional competence amongst waste managers. CIWM seeks to raise standards for those working in and with the sector by producing best practice guidance, developing educational and training initiatives, and providing information on key waste-related issues. More information can be found at

2.    CEC: The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is the largest international network of circular economy professionals and organizations with over 260 CEC local chapters in over 110 countries. It is a not-for-profit, global club and is free to anyone to join. CEC’ vision is: “We envision a new era where all cities worldwide function through a circular model, setting the end of an age of waste” and its mission is “to bring the circular economy to cities worldwide by building strong local networks and provide them to the expertise to design and implement circular local strategies”.

Press contact:

Pat Jennings
CIWM Head of Policy, Knowledge & External Affairs
Tel: 01604 620426
Mob: 07912 228260