New study to assess how COVID has impacted waste sector and its workforce

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

A new study to investigate how COVID-19 has affected the UK waste sector has been launched.

The 18-month research project will explore the impact of the pandemic, which has transformed household waste into a potential biohazard and poses new risks to workers who collect, sort and dispose of waste materials.

Figures from Health and Safety Executive reveal that this workforce already faces significant occupational hazards, with higher fatalities in comparison to other UK sectors prior to the pandemic.

A team of experts will work on the project, including Dr Thom Davies, in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham; Dr Angeliki Balayannis, Professor Steve Hinchliffe and Dr Phillip J Nicholson from the University of Exeter; Dr Toni Gladding from the Open University; and Dr Emma Garnett from King’s College London.

The group, led by Dr Angeliki Balayannis, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Exeter, will work in partnership with local authorities and industry associations, including the Waste Industry Safety and Health forum (WISH), to examine how waste management processes and practices are changing as a result of the pandemic.

The team will interview workers on the frontline as well as waste industry leaders and stakeholders.

Dr Thom Davies, in Nottingham’s School of Geography, has previously conducted research in places impacted by petrochemical and nuclear waste, such as 'Cancer Alley' in Louisiana and the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone in Ukraine.          

Dr Davies said: “We know that coronaviruses persist on materials that people regularly dispose of in their domestic waste. On plastics and stainless steel surfaces, COVID-19 can survive for well over 72 hours. This potentially places workers at higher risk.   

The waste industry plays a vital and often-overlooked role in everyone's lives. It is really important to understand how it is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Thom Davies, Assistant Professor in the School of Geography

Dr Angeliki Balayannis said: “The pandemic has brought the labour of key workers such as NHS staff to light but waste workers are often disregarded.

“Our project is working with the people who maintain a critical – but often invisible – part of our infrastructure.”

The project aims to design a pandemic toolkit with workers to support action and decision-making, and help build future preparedness. It will generate urgent data on changing waste management processes, including collections, disposal, and administration;

The project has been awarded a grant by the Economic and Social Research Council through UKRI Ideas to Address COVID-19.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Thom Davies, in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham at; or Katie Andrews in the Press Office at the University of Nottingham at

Further information on the COVID-19 Waste Project can be found on the project website and on Twitter.

Katie Andrews - Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Social Sciences
Phone: 0115 951 5751

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Quicklink fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at Jubilee campus. For further information please contact a member of the Press Office on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide Sports University of the Year twice in three years, most recently in 2021. We are ranked seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798