The tsunami which is COVID-19 arrived with little warning, is overwhelming us with its speed and is devastating everything in its path. It is also bigger than we can comprehend. Most importantly it is creating fear and uncertainty. Fear about whether we will live, whether we will have a job, whether we will have enough income. There is uncertainty about the truth and when the lock down and COVID-19 will end.
With hindsight we should not be surprised about COVID-19, the scientists have been warning us about pandemics for years as have some respected personalities including Bill Gates. What for me is surprising is the speed at which events have overtaken us. A bit like a tsunami, a surge of water which looks benign for a few seconds and then overwhelms everything in its path. The aftermath, like that of a tsunami, is devastating to life and property.
So far our systems have only been mildly tested by a collapsing recycling market, load shedding and a shrinking economy. This is the real test. The full force of the tsunami waters will only reach us in the coming weeks; the health system is likely to be overwhelmed, and government resources are constrained by a junked economy The solidarity which we presently enjoy is likely to disintegrate into casting blame, social upheaval and unrest. There are parallels in history.
COVID-19 is a bit like a tsunami, and so too is waste
Economists are talking about a depression; which takes us back to the Great Depression of 1933. The changes which that depression brought about were fundamental; including the splitting of The National Party, collapse of some agricultural markets, the rise of the gold mining industry and the social unrest. This culminated in the replacement of General Jan Smuts and put South Africa on a different path.
COVID-19 is bad, but we must look beyond the tsunami and the loss of life to when the waters recede. After every tsunami and depression society has buried its dead and rebuilt the economy. The political landscape changed and society coalesced around new leaders. South Africa continued. Death, taxes and waste are certainties in life.
Ours systems together with our staff are coping and we are managing to provide the services promised with some delays and limited services in some cases. The good relationships which we enjoy with our clients, your understanding and co-operation have been fundamental to our being able to continue providing those services.
Waste will not go away, and neither will Smart Waste
The real opportunity, however, lies in finding alternate solutions – African solutions – to our problems. Smart Waste has been working on a number of these for some time. At present, we are using a team to provide services to some sites. Instead of a permanent sorter on site all day we are driving a team of staff to one site and they perform the services of one person in an hour. Most of our clients are still trading and we have to service them.
Most recyclers have closed but we are finding alternate ways of recycling cardboard and are storing some of the other recyclers. Our food removal systems are still collecting. Our staff are still getting to their sites and our managers are resolving issues. Despite everything Smart Waste is operating.
Post COVID-19 and the depression there will be changes. Can government relax some of its regulations? Can it put South Africa on a growth path? Will the unions play ball? Attitude changes fundamentals not the other way around.
In the future some of the weaker companies will no longer be around. Those companies which survive will be stronger. Waste will not go away. And neither will Smart Waste.