Rubbish in Tottenham, London, during the pandemic. Credit – Acabashi
The impact of COVID-19 on the UK waste sector will be investigated in a new project led by the University of Exeter.
The pandemic has transformed household waste into a potential biohazard and poses new risks to workers who collect, sort and dispose of waste materials.
Figures from Health and Safety Executive reveal that this workforce already faces significant occupational hazards, with higher fatalities in comparison to other UK sectors prior to the pandemic.
The project is led by Dr Angeliki Balayannis, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Exeter.
She is working with Professor Steve Hinchliffe and Dr Philip J Nicholson in the University’s Department of Geography, and Co-Investigators at the University of Nottingham (Dr Thom Davies), the Open University (Dr Toni Gladding) and King’s College London (Dr Emma Garnett).
“The pandemic has brought the labour of key workers such as NHS staff to light,” said Dr Balayannis.
“But waste workers are often disregarded.
“Our project is working with the people who maintain a critical – but often invisible – part of our infrastructure.”
The project has been awarded a £271K grant by the Economic and Social Research Council through UKRI Ideas to Address COVID-19.
The team will work in partnership with local authorities and industry associations – including the Waste Industry Safety and Health forum (WISH) – to examine how waste management processes and practices are changing.
The project aims to design a pandemic toolkit with workers to support action and decision-making, and help build future preparedness.