Waste management during the COVID-19 outbreak: Investigating a critical sector in crisis

  • Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Total publications:0 publications

Grant number: ES/V005200/1

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Key facts

  • Disease

  • Known Financial Commitments (USD)

  • Funder

    UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Principle Investigator

  • Research Location

    United Kingdom, Europe
  • Lead Research Institution

    University of Exeter
  • Research Category

    Infection prevention and control

  • Research Subcategory

    Barriers, PPE, environmental, animal and vector control measures

  • Special Interest Tags


  • Study Subject


  • Clinical Trial Details


  • Broad Policy Alignment


  • Age Group

    Adults (18 and older)

  • Vulnerable Population


  • Occupations of Interest



The COVID-19 outbreak is transforming everyday household waste into a biohazard. Coronaviruses are transmitted person-to-person, however COVID-19 also persists on surfaces for several days (van Doremalen et al. 2020). Consequently, this pandemic is severely impacting the waste management sector; causing disposal and recycling service disruptions, and putting waste workers at risk. Before the emergence of COVID-19 this heavily marketised and deregulated sector - comprising over 3,000 companies - was already associated with elevated rates of death and injury compared to other sectors in the UK (HSE 2019). This project asks to what extent the UK waste management sector is equipped to meet the unprecedented challenges generated by this pandemic. The interdisciplinary project works in partnership with national industry associations and local authorities to investigate how this critical sector is responding to, and affected by, COVID-19 - particularly in terms of the safety of its workers. It aims to mitigate hazards related to waste management during the outbreak through three interrelated approaches: 1) the project generates urgent data on the sector's rapidly changing waste management practices. It employs social research methods to examine pivotal processes, including collections, disposal, and administration; 2) the project collaborates with key workers to map the sector and design a pandemic toolkit that can amplify workers' voices in decision-making; and 3) in collaboration with the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum, this project creates guidelines and an industry report to enable greater co-ordination between authorities. This research addresses both the immediate crisis and contributes to future preparedness plans.