26 March 2020

Can the environmental sector battle COVID19?

UNTHA UK’s managing director Marcus Brew considers what the CoronaVirus outbreak could mean for the environmental sector moving forward…

OPINION: It has – without a doubt – been the most challenging month encountered by not just the environmental sector, but the global economy, in modern times. And March isn’t even over!

COVID19 also feels all the more frightening because we have no way of truly knowing when this pandemic will be under control. Nobody has a crystal ball so all we can do at the moment is follow official guidance, trust in the action we must take, and hope.

So, while in many respects we’re probably merely at the beginning of this difficult journey, the only way some organisations will know how to get through this, is to keep looking forward.

There will undoubtedly be some firms that sadly do not survive the economic battle against Coronavirus. I do hope Government measures such as the job retention scheme and VAT deferral decision will go part way to easing pressures, so that they can sustain continuity for as long as possible. But even these impressive packages won’t be enough for everyone.

Marcus Brew of Untha UK

It would be wrong to say that only the large – or small – businesses will survive. In reality it’s probably little to do with size. But various other factors will be at play, including agility.


For years we’ve been on a progressive journey to roll out more and more workflows, innovative tech and automation within UNTHA UK. It means our team has thankfully been able to adjust relatively well to the new – yet evolving – normal we’ve rolled out within our company.

However, it’s still meant a lot of hard work. And that effort must continue, so we’ll draw on every element of camaraderie we’ve got.

In terms of the specifics, our shredder experts are still consulting using virtual meetings where possible and home working is in place to limit visits to the office unless absolutely necessary.

We’ve all got access to the same data and resources as we would have if we were in the office, so it’s hopefully business as usual.

While many businesses may find it difficult to look for silver linings at the moment, I do think there are glimmers of opportunity to be spotted – and remembered – throughout all of this.

As alluded to above, now is the time to think about where tech can ease some of the day to day admin burdens experienced within organisations. Let’s strive to become more efficient. Let’s encourage our colleagues to work productively from different locations, and not just in a time of crisis.


Let’s have a change-ready appetite within our teams which means – while we probably can’t anticipate another overwhelming period such as the one we’re going through now – we can be agile to navigate it as best we can.

And although we are big believers in face to face relationship building, let’s also use technology to facilitate collaborations at a distance, when physical meetings aren’t really required.

There will be far more opportunities ahead, I’m sure. As a business community, we should therefore remain open-minded.

I do fear that through all of this there is the danger – certainly in the commercial sector – that environmental objectives will take a back seat when many eyes are understandably focused on survival.

I hope we’ll all be re-educated as to the opportunity to do more with less

Marcus Brew

But this needn’t be the only sector trend to emerge from the COVID19 battle.

For example, reports have already indicated that pollution is falling, as there are less vehicles undertaking journeys from A to B. So, if we keep rethinking the need to always be on the road – to continue the point made above about virtual meetings – could at least a proportion of this carbon reduction be maintained?

A number of social media conversations have already started highlighting the widespread realisation that we ordinarily take so much for granted. So – ridiculous shopping/stockpiling aside – will some people start to reassess their disregard for what they consume? I hope we’ll all be re-educated as to the opportunity to do more with less, which could help prevent the creation of some waste, at source.


While we’ve never been wholly against the export of resources such as RDF and SRF – when demand exists elsewhere and not within our own country – perhaps this whole experience could even go some way to encouraging us to become more self-sufficient and resource secure as a nation, certainly when it comes to renewable energy.
It is also important to note that – while it may not dominate the headlines at present – the environmental sector has not ground to a halt.

And it may only be a small point, but it was incredibly encouraging to read that personnel working in the waste disposal sectors have been classified by the Government as ‘key workers’. Rightly so, too. For too long the efforts of the people who handle the UK’s commercial, industrial and domestic waste – to ensure we move towards a greener, more resource-secure future – have gone largely unnoticed. Let’s hope that stops today.

We can only comment with any certainty on these possibilities – and others we haven’t yet thought of – as time passes. But I suppose the point is that we can learn from this. We can – and should – find ways to make our businesses, our sector, and our country stronger, when this is hopefully all over.

Above all, what matters right now is the safety of the nation. We are thinking of you. We’ll be here as much as we possibly can for everyone who needs us. And we very much look forward to raising a glass with you at the other side.



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