The NALAS Panel on “The resilience of the waste management services, present, and future” took place on 3 June 2020. This was the last panel of the series of webinars initiated by NALAS to bring focus to the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak had on the Solid Waste Management process, including public health and safety of workers.
This panel focused on the different resilience aspects of the waste management services including infrastructure (state, investments needs, asset management), coverage (coverage rate, urban-rural rate), technical and human capacities (need for upgrade and capacity development), cooperation with the local self-government and citizens, planning (existence of contingency plans, short, mid, and long term planning, goals), readiness for the climate change, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic served as the driver of the conversation, but the discussion was not exclusively based on this type of crisis and included other natural and man-made hazards.
The Speakers of the panel were:
- Ms. Zorica Bilić, GIZ ORF MMS Country Coordinator, Serbia
- Mr. Vlatko Jovanovski, Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Initiative SEE, Bosna & Herzegovina
- Mr. Felix Schmidt, Strategy end Development Director at SCD Engineers, Switzerland
Ms. Zorica Bilić shared that when it comes to waste management service resilience with the specific focus on COVID-19 pandemic there are four key factors.
First is the ability of the waste management provider to absorb the initial shock of a hazardous situation. It is about the awareness of the utility of is vulnerability and preparedness to act in such circumstances. In this respect, the organizational capacity of the company, i.e. the existence of specific health and safety procedures or contingency plans is the key factor of resilience;
- The second resilience factor is the ability to skilfully manage the crisis. In other words, it is the ability of the leadership or the management of the utility company not just to ensure the safety of their employees but to prevent further spreading of the epidemic to the general public;
- The third resilience factor is the ability to recover quickly and continue with the operations. In this case, we are speaking about the issues of liquidity, good organizational capacities, relations with local and other levels of governance;
- The fourth resilience factor is the utilities’ ability to learn and incorporate lessons learned from past occurrences into future actions, but also to exchange and use experiences from others in the risk assessment and planning.
In disaster management and prevention, the role of risk assessment is crucial. It is the most important pillar in preparedness and prevention policies. All the countries in the region include pandemic scenarios in their risk assessments. Ever since the SARAS 2002 pandemic and the MERS outbreak in 2012, countries in the region are considering pandemics in their risk assessments, emphasized Mr. Vlatko Jovanovski.
Mr. Felix Schmidt highlighted that when talking about the risks and the waste management services we need to distinguish between the long term risk to the environment, which is related to the treatment and disposal of the waste and the effects on the environment, and the risk to the continuity of the services and possible effects to the human health and society in general. To ensure the minimum of service during the crisis but also to be able to preserve it, in the long run, there are several critical factors of the resilience:
- Financial stability over long periods is connected to the capacity to maintain a good and accurate customer base including households and the commercial sector and industry, as well as to have a functional billing system. This issue is also connected to the budgeting and negotiations with the local authority on the budget of the company, i.e. the price of the service and the tariff system which is always a very tough political issue;
- Money or stable financing and liquidity is one of those factors. It is needed for performing regular tasks, purchasing the fuel and consumable parts such as tires for the garbage trucks, but also for the maintenance and the salaries of the waste operator employees;
- Another critical resilience factor is to have available workforce and to be able to organize operations on the daily bases without interruptions;
- There are also technical difficulties that companies face during the crisis in the sense of organizing procurement and ensuring a regular supply of fuel, materials, and equipment (including health and safety equipment for the workers) for smooth operations;
- Additional resilience factor on the level of the waste operator is the organization and management of the company in terms of taking all the necessary decisions on the day to day bases, like the organization of the shifts, routs, collection frequency, etc;
- Another crucial point of resilience is the communication capacity of the utility company. In a time of crisis there is a great need for communication with the people, the customers, workers, authorities, to define the minimum service level that has to be preserved, and all of the mentioned actors, have a specific influence and expectations in that respect. Besides that, it needs to be communicated on how the service will be conducted during the crisis and how the general population should act and contribute to the preservation of the waste management service;
- One more important factor for the resilience of the service is the stability of the management structure of the utility regardless of whether the company is public or private. This is because waste management is not a topic that can be learned in school, nor there is formal education for the managers of such companies. Therefore, big fluctuations in management positions are not good for the resilience of companies in emergencies, since experience and good knowledge of the system are necessary to preserve the service performance.
Waste management is a logistic cycle that needs a lot of planning, and if the day to day planning is well-done service can be very efficient, cheaper, and much more resilient. Likewise, planning for emergencies can ensure the continuation of the services, keep the minimum requirements, and preserve the functionality of the utility company. For this operation to be successful, accurate and reliable data (on routes, fuel, shifts, workers, quantities, etc.) is needed as well as the supervision and monitoring to make sound decisions.
One the main conclusions of the Webinar was that to build a resilient system of waste management, first, we need to make sure to optimize the existing one. This is especially important in the SEE regions where waste management systems are overburdened with structural and day to day problems. Optimizing processes, reducing inefficiencies, and increasing the sustainability of utility companies is a precondition to the resilience of the services.
To read about all the conclusions and recommendations, please click here:
NALAS Panel_“The resilience of the waste management services, present, and future”