What is Veolia's mission during the crisis?
Veolia's mission is to deliver essential water, waste and energy services on a daily basis. From the outset of the pandemic, we rolled out continuity plans for these services in our different zones and for our various businesses. Our employees are prepared and dedicated to maintaining these services for the public, healthcare establishments and vital businesses (food processing, supermarkets, energy suppliers, etc.), all of which rely on us to continue to provide their services on a daily basis.
In view of the crisis, what have you done to ensure the continuity of the waste management service?
We have rolled out continuity plans, organized by country and local authority, based on the following priorities:
- household waste collection,
- maintaining waste treatment activities such as waste-to-energy units, which in particular produce heat and electricity for inhabitants and industry, and storage centres for the disposal of waste as it is produced
Have you had any difficulties with waste collection?
At present, we have not seen any particular difficulties and our staff is working hard. We have set up tailored timetables and modified certain rounds due to changes in the type and volume of waste to be collected.
How are you organizing things?
We are organizing ourselves so that as many employees as possible, especially in the support functions, are teleworking. Whenever possible, planning of rounds is done remotely thanks to digital technology. We have also set up staff rotations so that our employees in the field do not cross each other and do not need to gather together. As far as collections are concerned, we use the "single crew" principle: one person is alone in the truck cab and another is alone on the step. We ensure strict compliance with hygiene and barrier measures, as well as with the occupational risk prevention measures already in place within the Group, and we regularly disinfect our vehicles and facilities.
The dedication of our employees is exemplary; they are everyday heroes. At this time, our mission is even more important, because expectations are even higher. At present, we have very few absent employees and those who are, are mostly vulnerable (chronic illnesses, etc.).
What about waste collection for recycling?
As the work of the recycling and sorting centres does not fall within the scope of essential services, either our local authority customers decide on their own to stop selective collection, or we can suggest to certain customers that they stop so that the sorting centre can be closed. Indeed, as things stand, there are a number of factors that make it impossible for us to maintain this activity (lack of masks, the close proximity of agents on the same sorting line, etc.). Today, some centres are therefore working at a slower pace and others are at a complete standstill. Over time, we will ensure that the activity is maintained as widely as possible, in strict compliance with the safety of our employees and the continuity of the most essential services.
Has the volume of medical waste increased?
We are indeed seeing a significant increase in medical waste, both hazardous and non-hazardous. Hospitals are more crowded and, as a result, produce more waste. However, we are not experiencing any difficulties in collecting and treating it.
What about industrial waste treatment?
Sorting centres dedicated to the recovery of non-hazardous industrial waste (all non-inert and non-hazardous waste generated by businesses) continue to operate with as little human intervention as possible.
Apart from certain types of medical waste, what about the treatment of other hazardous waste?
To date, the treatment of hazardous waste has not been impacted. As with all our other activities, the continuity of our services and the safety of our employees are our top priorities (staff rotation, provision of personal protection equipment, teleworking, etc.). Since the beginning of the crisis, our specialist subsidiaries have rolled out business continuity plans, organized by site and in conjunction with local authorities in particular, with the priority of maintaining our facilities and hazardous waste treatment activities. Our sites are also prepared to anticipate a possible reduction in the number of employees, while maintaining our activities in strict compliance with the safety rules related to the regulations in force for this type of treatment.
Our hazardous waste treatment activity is closely linked to essential industrial activities, which in fact make up the majority of our customers. It is essential to life in the countries where we operate, especially in these times of extreme tension. Hospitals, the chemical, pharmaceutical, food and oil industries, the mobility and logistics industries and other organizations need our plants, incinerators, storage sites and treatment centres in order to safely treat their hazardous waste and carry out their public service mission.
In view of the crisis, what have you done to ensure the continuity of water and sanitation services?
We have rolled out continuity plans, organized by country, for drinking water and sanitation services, and local and national crisis units to anticipate and prepare for any problems.
What are the priorities?
Our priorities are the essential operations: ensuring drinking water production and wastewater treatment. Some operations, such as non-emergency maintenance operations or meter readings, have been postponed.
Are you encountering any difficulties?
We have not encountered any difficulties related to the continuation of our activities. Our teams are working hard to ensure water and sanitation services are maintained.
In terms of sanitation, however, we have seen that the public do not always remember that only toilet paper can be flushed down the toilet. Disinfectant wipes, cotton buds, diapers, tissues, etc. must be thrown in the bin. They are a danger for our pipes and the environment and lead to clogged pipes in our indoor plumbing or sewerage systems.
Our teams are now dealing with an increase in the number of interventions that could be avoided if everyone helped and showed solidarity. Doing the right thing and disposing of waste correctly means respecting the agents who work in the field on a daily basis, fighting the pandemic and providing for hygiene in the home that guarantees our health and safety.
How are you organizing things?
We are organizing ourselves so that as many employees as possible, especially in the support functions, are teleworking. Those who cannot, such as our agents in the plants or those working on the networks, have a suitable timetable, with rotations. We are being careful to strengthen hygiene measures by respecting the barrier measures and occupational risk prevention measures already in place within the Group and by regularly disinfecting our facilities and vehicles.
Our physical reception agencies are closed and our call centres are always available to deal with emergencies. We invite consumers to use the website to make their requests.
The dedication of our employees is exemplary; they are everyday heroes. At this time, our mission is even more important, as expectations are even higher. At present, very few of our employees have exercised their right to withdraw their labour and those who have done so are mostly vulnerable people (chronic illnesses, etc.).
Can you become infected with the virus by drinking tap water?
There is no risk of Covid-19 infection through drinking water and there are no drinking water related cases according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is no more resistant than any other to the various stages in the water treatment process.
Is it possible to find traces of the virus in wastewater?
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that there are no additional risks associated with our water and wastewater operations and the French Ministry of the Ecological Transition and Solidarity states that "the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not generate any additional risk in the management of water and sanitation services" and that "the precautions normally taken to guard against other pathogens usually present in wastewater are sufficient to prevent any transmission in this context, in addition to the application of barrier measures to deal with the coronavirus".
How do you see the future?
We are approaching the coming days and weeks with confidence. We are ready to adapt to any potential change in the situation, even an unfavourable one.
In view of the crisis, what have you done to ensure the continuity of energy services?
Our priority is to ensure continuity of service in the production and distribution of heat, domestic hot water and electricity to our municipal, tertiary (such as hospitals) and industrial customers, without any restrictions, while ensuring the safety of our employees (provision of hydro-alcoholic solutions, wearing masks, etc.). We have rolled out service continuity plans tailored to each of our customers, set up international and local crisis units, and adapted our teams' schedules (rotation, postponement of non-urgent activities not directly related to the supply of heat and electricity).