In a crisis there has to be a constant balancing between the urgent and the important, and the primary focus has to be on items which are both. These activities get priority, they get publicity, and they get resource. That is often at the expense of activities whose importance is as great, or even greater, but whose urgency is less.
The resource issue is an interesting one. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t guarantee success though it can be essential to remove barriers to finding a solution. Throwing people at a problem can, beyond certain limits, become counter-productive. Come a crisis, effective resource management is critical. The right quantity of the right resource has to be directed to the right activities. When this is applied to the public sector priorities for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some clear priorities, and resource needs to be directed to these. But what happens to the people not involved? The people not involved in the high-profile new roles? For some, the existing role cannot be abandoned – it may even become more demanding as the effects of the pandemic spread across the population.
That leaves a group of varying degrees of seniority, whose work, quite frankly, cannot be justified. Should they simply be put on gardening leave and treated as a reserve until such time as it becomes appropriate to redeploy them to fill gaps in the essential services? Or can some of them spend the time preparing for the day when the world emerges from lockdown?
With this in mind, the DeliveryDemon is about to talk rubbish.
We don’t know how long the pandemic will last. We don’t know what the world will look like when it comes to an end, or under control. One of the very few things we do know is that it will have generated one hell of a lot of rubbish, and that rubbish will need to be dealt with to prevent it choking the entire global environment. The earlier governments can start thinking how to handle this predictable problem, the more quickly it can be addressed.
Where is all the rubbish coming from:
- Even with inadequate supplies of protective and medical equipment, there will be a massive quantity of infective waste to be disposed of. Incineration may be an appropriate resource, but barely 18 months ago it became clear that the UK did not have sufficient capacity for business as usual operation. There is no evidence of substantial capacity increase. This waste is a predictable problem.
- A substantial increase in the demand for home delivery by supermarkets will more than offset the efforts of the past few years to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags. Picking and packing under pressure doesn’t allow the luxury of maximising the number of items per bag. And the bags are essential to minimise the level of contact between the delivery driver and customers.
- Fear of infection predisposes food shoppers to prefer wrapped goods to loose, whether shopping in person or on line.
- Working from home, limiting time away from home, home-schooling of children, all these create a degree of boredom and tension and the easy solution can be treats – an instant source of soft drink containers, wine and beer bottles and cans, wrappings from sweets and biscuits and other snacks. In one way this can be offset against the reduced waste due to reduced footfall in business centres and the closing of some of the big chains of fast food outlets. In another way it’s a shift from the commercial waste disposal route to the domestic one. Logistics and commercial agreements become as much of an issue as waste volume.
- Panic-buying has already had a noticeable effect on waste volumes, with bin crews finding fuller bins and obvious disposal of just out of date perishable foods.
- Tips have been closed at a time when people are forced to spend more time at home. Even those who can work from home will have more time on their hands to notice all the DIY jobs they never quite had time to do. That’s more waste being generated and it has nowhere to go till the tips open again. It won’t just be swallowed up by the newly opened tips either, they are not designed to cope with several months of waste arriving in a week or two.
- Fly tipping has been an increasing problem for some time as local authorities applied more and more limitations to the usage of tips. It is in fact a growing organised crime. It is also becoming less socially unacceptable at the lower end of activity. As outdoor footfall reduces, and tracing resource is reduced or redirected to other activities, the risk of a flytipper being caught reduces from an already fairly low level. After a few months there will be a lot of rubbish to be cleared from countryside, wasteground, farmland, and parks.
- And there’s the obvious point that legitimate waste disposal is as likely to be affected by resource problems as any other activity, where employees may themselves become ill or be required to isolate because of contact with others who become ill.
When we are able to look beyond the pandemic, when we are able to go freely from our homes into the natural environment, the DeliveryDemon expects that environment to look very different, and not entirely in a good way. We will not be able to ignore the aftermath of the lifestyles adopted of necessity during lockdown. It would be reassuring to see, as a secondary line of activity, some thought being given to helping our environment recover from what we have done to protect ourselves.