Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Otto de Bont, CEO of waste-to-product company Renewi, has overseen operations for the UK waste sector.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, governments worked quickly to close down all but essential businesses and operations, also putting the country into lockdown.
As the lockdown gradually eases and non-essential businesses are expected to open on 15 June, we must not forget that the waste sector has played a key role in society since the beginning of the pandemic.
For the average person, it is easy to disassociate yourself with the waste you produce. Since the outbreak, however, we have produced vast amounts of surgical and medical waste from hospitals, as well as infectious waste from care homes.
As of April 2020, the global medical waste management industry processed three to six times more waste than has been handled before.
Image credit: Living on Earth
More than ever, we should show a greater appreciation towards the vital role the waste management industry plays, particularly as it has been responsible for keeping our European healthcare workers, social care workers and communities safe by managing the growing mountain dangerous medical waste.
The pandemic has effectively changed the sector's capacity as the number of medical incinerators and chemical treatment methods were inadequate to process the high volume of infectious materials.
The waste management industry has had no choice but to adapt to changing conditions and unprecedented volumes of waste, including bodily fluids, infectious materials, medical supplies and disposable PPE.
With global shortages of PPE, such as protective face masks, the waste sector in some places - such as the Netherlands - has found a way to re-purpose and recycle masks in a safe manner.
For example, Renewi and GreenCycl have collaborated to fully sterilize and return up to 48,000 face masks per day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ensues, governments across Europe will have to face the challenge of waste management and will have no choice but to build additional capacity for waste processing and treatment.
In a post-COVID world, the waste management industry must continue to safely manage and dispose of our waste and as average citizens, we must continue to recognise its important role in society.