Has it really only been a week since we were jauntily at Alert Level 2, still allowed to go shopping with friends and family (in, admittedly, a rather frantic way) and walk within two metres of each other?
It’s hard to believe, but yes – and it’s actually been less than five days since we all watched the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday lunchtime, informing us of the immediate move to Level 3 and that we would be in lockdown by Wednesday night. The WasteMINZ team watched in stunned silence, grouped around one laptop, and then like everyone else our thoughts turned to getting home to our loved ones.
The week’s COVID-19 activities
Our thoughts also turned to our members who would be on the front line and in need of information in these turbulent times. That afternoon we supplied you with the WasteMINZ Pandemic Strategy. On Tuesday we entered discussions to ensure that waste remained an ‘essential service’ – and sent out our first COVID-19 blog. On Wednesday we were able to announce that designation of waste as essential services was retained and that recycling was included. On Thursday we moved into the detail.
Webinar with MfE
Then today, Friday 27 March, we hosted the first of our weekly webinars to update everyone on the latest information during the COVID-19 crisis. The webinar was stretched to full capacity with 101 members in attendance; we are already working to ensure that as many members as wish to attend can join us next week and beyond.
Co-presenters Roderick Boys and Shaun Lewis from MfE offered their invaluable support, describing the decision-making structure and then explaining first-hand what some of those decisions have been throughout the week. The messages throughout was clear: safety comes first, and it will be left to the TAs to establish the best practices for their region, district or city.
Members have been sent the Q&A in note form and a recording of the webinar. As it is for members only, we have not included them here. If you would like copies of them, please talk to our membership coordinator, Sharmaine Oakley about options for joining WasteMINZ.
Handling of contaminated or suspected contaminated waste
Along with MfE we have been working to obtain clear guidelines from MoH on the handling of contaminated or suspected contaminated waste, particularly regarding tissues/wipes, bottles and crates and packaging that may have been touched by someone with the COVID-19 virus.
We are very pleased to tell you that this information has now been issued and is here for you to consider. It is down to individual councils and community bodies to factor in how to apply this information and inform the public.
The Department of Internal Affairs, LGNZ, SOLGM, NEMA and other relevant government agencies have established a Covid-19 Local Government Response Unit to canvas and work through the immediate and longer-term challenges the disease poses for the local government sector and to support you in your responses to these evolving challenges.
This is the guidance that has been finalised, relevant to solid waste.
· We have provided some key messages below regarding solid waste collection during COVID-19 Level Four measures and best practices.
· For operational detail, the Ministry of Health will soon be publishing guidelines for non-health essential workers, including waste management.
Solid Waste is an essential service
· Solid waste collection is an essential service and will continue throughout the COVID-19 response and recovery.
· Waste collection workers are providing an essential service and will continue working under Alert Level Four.
· Please do not approach workers while they are engaged in waste handling or collection services.
· There are strong health and safety measures in place for all workers to follow when collecting and handling all waste. These essential workers will be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment to ensure their safety.
Household waste collection
· Please continue using your kerbside waste collection service for waste disposal during COVID-19 Alert Level Four.
· While this is an essential service, we may need to alter collection dates during the Alert Level Four measures. Check your local council (or private collector) website regularly for updates on collection dates and kerbside recycling arrangements.
· Landfills and transfer stations are for essential services use only during Alert Level Four.
Households with COVID-19 infected waste (either confirmed or suspected)
· Waste from these households, such as used tissues and wet wipes, should be placed into a separate bag and either sealed or tied up before putting it into general household waste. Please do not flush wet wipes down the toilet.
Weekly situational update
As discussed on the webinar, WasteMINZ is one of the key stakeholders who are committed to supporting the collection of waste under Level 4 restraints. Each week these stakeholders and industry representatives meet to review and discuss the needs of the sector, and then escalate these issues to the critical agencies. Our collective focus is to provide clarity on the framework for managing waste as an essential service.
We are also committed to ensuring that the collection and management of waste can be done in a safe manner that minimises operational risk to those collecting and processing the waste materials.
Consistency of messaging and understanding the detail of the services being delivered will be critical.
Each week, WasteMINZ will distribute a survey at 8am on Monday morning to our operational members involved in the delivery of essential services. We ask you to complete and return to us by no later than 3pm on the same day. That will allow sufficient time for collation prior to key multi-agency and stakeholder working groups each Tuesday.
Thank you for your co-operation and assistance with this information. It will help us to help you stay safe.
The weekend approaches
Our first weekend in lockdown will be an interesting one as we all come to terms with managing stay-at-home households, supporting neighbours that we may not have known before COVID-19 raised its head, and maybe, daring to go to the supermarket for the first time since the Level 4 alert sounded on Wednesday 25 March 2020.
I know most of us will focus on the positives of having our families safe and cared for. Many of us will also face the challenge of adjusting to life in the ‘new normal’. Please try and take some down time – Monday will be here soon enough.
You’ll hear from me again next week. Until then – stay well and stay safe. Kia kaha.