With the impact of COVID-19 being felt by waste businesses across the country, Mandalay Technologies provides advice on mitigating some of the social and economic risks through improved service delivery.
All organisations have been impacted in some way by COVID-19.
While many waste and resource recovery businesses are facing shared challenges, many of these issues are nuanced and require unique solutions.
COVID-19 is moving at a frenetic pace, creating a range of social and economic risks, from serious public health challenges to the disruption of just-in-time supply chains.
But in the seed of every problem, comes opportunity. With the risk of transmission via human interaction posing significant health risks, myriad businesses are examining how they can interact and connect with their customers, staff and suppliers remotely.
The digitisation of waste has long been on the radar of Mandalay Technologies and while this transition is not an overnight process, COVID-19 has forced its acceleration.
To that end, Mandalay has seen an immediate uptake in the need for operators to switch a significant proportion of their operations to digital overnight.
“Most of our customers saw this as a five to two-year horizon, but this pandemic has brought on the need to do it now, as we’re seeing human interaction pose a significant risk to staff and their customers,” explains Simon Kalinowski, Mandalay Technologies’ Director.
“If you look at the implications of digital supply chains, the amount of other benefits that that will bring to the waste and recycling industry is enormous.”
Mandalay customers have identified a number of areas where they need help. Some of the key questions are: how do operators minimise face-to-face contact at weighbridges and transfer stations while keeping operations running? Additionally, how does one handle document and tickets electronically or remotely, or even become cashless and process payments remotely?
Many of these questions were answered in Mandalay’s webinar in late March on Business Continuity During COVID-19, which addressed a range of issues faced by local governments and businesses alike.
Mandalay’s webinar started with a pulse check: at what point is your organisation at with business continuity planning towards COVID-19 for your waste operations?
The results showed 49 per cent of respondents highlighted planning is in progress, with 26 per cent noting they have a plan in place being implemented, 23 per cent close to finalising their plan and only three per cent that had not started their existing plans.
While each situation is unique, Mandalay has been working with businesses to help them identify their business continuity plan, what services are impacted and how and what can be done to reduce risk factors.
“For us it was very difficult to interpret how this would play out in Australia, but we’ve been having a lot of one-on-one conversations around our strategy and thoughts on the way we can support you, with the situation evolving infinitely day-by-day,” Simon says.
“What we’ve found as we talk to people is that we’ve been able to expand their thinking about what’s possible, practical and probable quite quickly in those conversations.”
He says that this has informed the need for businesses and councils to undergo a bespoke review.
Simon reflects that while working remotely takes a lot of getting used to, as a seasoned work-from-home veteran he’s finding self-isolation to be highly productive.
“Because we’ve invested so heavily in digital and cloud technology and pushing our clients towards cloud-based applications and centralised management, then essentially their operations and relationship with us doesn’t change at all. In fact, our ability to support our clients is actually enhanced.”
One of the points highlighted in the webinar is an anticipated change in the profile of waste generation from customers of all types over the coming months and its impact on transactions. With household consumption already increasing, additional waste once considered C&I and even C&D is expected to end up in the MSW stream.
“In metro areas there’s quite a high vigilance around the potential impacts of this and there’s clearly an impact on tonnage, so there’s a whole redistribution of waste occurring at the moment,” Simon says.
“I can’t stress enough that that impact is going to be more significant than you realise and we’re already seeing it now. We’re seeing significant reduction in participation in collection services, issues around non-payment for real circumstances or financial impact or otherwise.”
However, he adds that we need to be careful in taking a knee-jerk approach to policy, citing anecdotal discussions about replacing green waste bins with general waste.
Some of the issues Mandalay has seen are the closure or scaling back of existing facilities and the question of whether new services are required to meet the changing waste profile.
“We expect there will be new service requests and service profiles, so in your business continuity plan looking at how you can support requests that come in or decision-making with your teams is something I would encourage you to consider.”
In Queensland, the state government enacted the disaster charter due to COVID-19, which currently does not provide exemption on the waste levy.
“Just because there’s a disaster charter, doesn’t mean there’s disaster waste. An exemption may come, and that period is likely to be in two to four weeks’ time.”
“What we need to focus on is correct data for transactions coming through so operators can provide auditability on materials, their origin and the profile of that so in the event that it is, you’ve got a good history of your transactions.”
Simon says the reality is that some customers are now looking at closing facilities or considering sending their material to landfill.
As part of this, hours of operation and staff and redundancy planning is important.
To protect the safety of operators, limiting the number of customers onsite at any given time is crucial. Moreover, supporting staff who deal extensively with members of the public, including gatehouse operators is equally important.
“Do I change the service experience to reduce the risk of transmission? There is a full gamut of issues very personal to each organisation in what they may think about,” Simon says.
Hygiene and the use of PPE equipment is another occupational health and safety risk that needs to be accounted for.
While many of these changes may be overwhelming for some, Simon adds that it’s important to introduce levels of change progressively, based on the level of risk posed to the community.
“For facilities that you elect to keep open to provide services, what are all your risks and dependencies on-site? Each organisation will have different views on the length of time this will remain an issue, but as a minimum it’s going to be a few months of impact, possibly longer.”
Mandalay is supporting its customers to reduce human interaction in a few key areas: product selection, payment and ticketing.
For example, operators can review their data setup to move from a manual system to a more streamlined process.
Installing intercoms or CCTV can reduce or remove the need for direct face-to-face contact, while giving operators the ability to manage and monitor customers at their facility.
In terms of payment, eliminating cash payments can remove the risk associated with staff handling cash. Removing the need for payment at the facility can be done across commercial and residential self-haul and in conjunction with account holders.
Requiring commercial customers to maintain a pre-paid account can provide full automation and reduce the need for face-to-face contact.
Installing a driver control station can also lead to automation for account holders and give them the ability to complete the transaction with no face-to-face contact.
Residential self-haul can help reduce the risk of driver transmission by having residents take waste to a facility to dispose of it. Site operators provide access to on-demand entitlements in the form of vouchers or the option to prepay an account.
During these challenging times, credit risk also remains an issue with commercial operators beginning to find it harder to make ends meet. By moving to a pre-paid model, the potential for credit risk is removed.
“There’s a real push to move to EFTPOS versus cash payments, I think this is a real reason to look at digital only and start to look at cashless facilities across the board.”
Providing tickets to customers without the need for direct human contact can also be achieved via a printer or direct to customers.
“The immediate solution is to provide an industrial printer in an all-weather enclosure installed post the bridge. We configure the ticket to print out on that ticket printer and it partially cuts the ticket.
“Rather than handing that ticket to the driver, you complete the transaction process and the partial perforation keeps the ticket in place until they can tear that off.”
Mandalay is also working on making tickets available online in the cloud.
And with business shutdowns and disruptions expected to last anywhere from three to six months or longer, Simon says it’s important to take a long-term view to digitising one’s operations.
“I’m working with one council that see their waste division as a key part of their economic and social responsibility and so projects are going to go ahead regardless because it’s a key contributor to council operations.
“They have a very evolved view about moving to a cashless and digital world. Whereas a council that doesn’t view their waste operations strategically, typically haven’t got a vision about where they’re going to go, so they will either close momentarily or put their staff and consumers at risk.”
“These types of challenging periods reward organisations that have got good teams and good plans and are set up to be able to act with agility.”
To find out more about how Mandalay can support your business, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
This article was published in the May edition of Waste Management Review.