Following a survey conducted by Waste Management Review’s publisher, we reveal the latest stats from businesses in the sector as we move into a new normal following the peak of COVID-19 challenges.
At a time when the world has been shocked by a pandemic and resilience has never been more critical, Australia has been found to possess a strong foundation for a robust post-pandemic business recovery.
That’s why Waste Management Review’s publisher Prime Creative Media recently undertook an industry survey, to help companies understand where the waste and recovery industries are placed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already had tremendous impacts on the waste sector. At first, while the pandemic was progressing, and lockdowns imposed in many countries, public authorities and municipal waste operators had to rapidly adapt their waste management systems and procedures to the situation.
Councils around Australia have seen a huge increase in volumes of household rubbish and dumping of waste triggered by lockdown restrictions.
By April, Australian households had thrown out more than 10 per cent more rubbish and recyclables via kerbside bins during the COVID-19 lockdown, amid a spike in supermarket shopping and home deliveries.
As the steady battle against COVID-19 goes on, waste has risen in domestic and medical sectors that has added fresh challenges to the entire industry.
Pre-COVID-19, Australia was looking at 67 million tonnes of waste generated each year; now, in 2020, that number looks to be significantly higher.
There may be many trials with the ongoing crisis, but one thing remains as true as ever: efficient waste management is a must, and robust waste management following the recent events of COVID-19 is especially vital.
HOW WAS THE SECTOR IMPACTED?
A wide variety of people across executive, mid-level manager, finance, sales and marketing, procurement and operations participated in Waste Management Review’s industry survey, which reflects where the waste management sector is placed as the national and global economies start to emerge from this once-in-a generation challenging time.
Australia is a nation of major global operations and small businesses, that are mixed across both metro and regional locations.
Almost one quarter of survey respondents have 11-50 employees in their company, whilst the other equal majority of respondents had less than 10. On the other end of the scale, 17.6 per cent of respondents had over 500 employees.
This can be attributed to Australia’s location in the oceanic region and wide open space that can facilitate large waste management hubs spread across multiple points of the country.
Companies have had to invest their resources into shortening but also speeding up the organisation and clients supply chain.
During the pandemic, it was shown that one of the major disadvantages of stretched supply chains is that they can easily break at any point. You never know when a link in the supply chain fails due to uncontrollable factors, and your entire business is affected by it.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, waste management operations were ramped up as workers in organisations were going to work each day fulfilling a critical role. This was particularly seen in medical and household waste management operations.
However, companies in the sector have been forced to put control measures in place, limiting physical interactions between workers, suppliers, customers and others.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE BUSINESSES FACING?
40 per cent of industry respondents said the current effect of COVID-19 on their business is somewhat negative.
Business has come under a variety of threats as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic including heightened safety measures as workers have had to come into direct contact with domestic, industrial and medical waste, which could translate to an increased risk of exposure to the virus.
However, all Australian states and territories consider waste management, especially household landfill collection as an essential service for the nation.
This is most likely the contributing factor to over a quarter of respondents reporting that not a lot of impact is on their business at this time.
In March, Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment stressed the government’s commitment to fixing Australia’s plastic waste problem and the importance of industry working with government and consumers while Assistant Minister Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans highlighted the economic opportunities and the fact the recycling industry was ready to step up to improve recycling rates.
“We are looking towards fundamentally changing the way we think about and manage our waste, and creating new markets for recycled products,” Evans stated in March, pre-coved lockdown.
As restrictions tightened, the Federal Government had to inject cash flow assistance for businesses to counteract the social and economic challenges posed by COVID-19.
56 per cent of respondents rated the Federal Government’s support for the sector during the COVID-19 crisis as acceptable, whilst 16 per cent said it was very strong and just under a quarter said the Federal Government wasn’t supporting the waste sector enough.
As businesses struggle to meet the demands of this new normal, they are continuing to leverage Government stimulus packages and explore new opportunities. Focusing and evaluating are being highly regarded as the most beneficial tools for preparing for the rebound during the foreseeable future.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Majority of survey respondents said they expect their companies to return to previous levels in the next six to twelve months.
16 per cent believe it will take more than a year to return to normality, however just under a quarter of respondents are confident it will only be three to six more months until business can operate at the same levels pre-pandemic.
33 per cent of industry respondents said they don’t expect to create new positions within their company in the next 12 months, but 30 per cent hope they can hire more people to boost current operation and a further 19 per cent hope to rehire any staff that were laid off during this time.
This is further reflected in the industry survey, with an overwhelming majority of all respondents reporting they are exploring new technologies and services to make their company more productive and efficient.
Clearly the focus now for all companies across the sector is strengthening operations, as just under 40 per cent of respondents said they will continue current projects.
Industry respondents rated case studies about companies similar to their own as the most beneficial source to help purchasing decisions during this time.
In fact, close to half of all respondents said that information from third-party sources such as industry magazines and reports has been highly beneficial over direct advertising from social media platforms like Google and Facebook.
40 per cent of Industry respondents said information given directly from suppliers was influential.
Emailed newsletters and media websites were rated moderately to highly trustworthy and the most trustworthy source according to industry is trade magazines and periodic journals.
A promising 50 per cent of Industry respondents have been able to maintain its current level of marketing. These same respondents also reported that their companies were more productive and efficient and most likely saw some increase in business.
Although all physical trade events have been postponed until further notice, a healthy 43 per cent of respondents said they are likely to attend trade events in the future when the government deems it to be safe.
In a statement addressing members during the peak of the COVID pandemic earlier this year, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia said as an essential service, the waste and resource recovery sector is resilient.
According to the national association, it is vitally important that we pull together and work with each other to ensure, as far as practicable, the continuation of our essential services to the community.
As the lockdown or other restrictive measures are progressively lifted, a second phase is starting, and new challenges are appearing. Adaptation is needed once more, this time to search for stabilised operation.
Public and private organisations are encouraged to proactively work to restore services. Business and client needs are unpredictably changing, so working with authorities to provide solutions will ease constraints.