The current COVID-19 crisis has affected the recycling and solid waste industry in unique ways. While some employees may have the option of working from home, many solid waste employees don’t. After all, it’s difficult to work from home when your job requires the pickup and processing of a county’s or municipality’s waste.

On Thursday, March 26, we held a virtual town hall to share our concerns and suggestions for coping with COVID-19 in the world of solid waste management and recycling.

Listen in to the full conversation below. We’ve also provided a summary of the discussion. 

Two main takeaways:

  1. Trash collection: There’s been a definite uptick in the volume of trash, recycling, bulk and yard waste as many are taking advantage of the time home to do some spring cleaning. It is also estimated there will be a marked increase in cardboard and takeout containers leading to high volumne of recycling and trash pickup. The demand for compost for home gardeners is also increasing*.
  2. Reusable bags: With some grocery stores in several states such as IN and NH not allowing reusable bags over concerns of contamination, the controversary over bag bans is heating up once again as the plastics industry is trying to use this crisis to roll back plastic bag bans – see In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans.

*Composting: Brenda Platt (email bplatt@ilsr.org) of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is available to talk to anyone who would like to consider home composting training virtually or via videos.

Here is a sampling of the comments and suggestions offered in response to the questions posed over the course of the town hall.

How are you dealing with “social distance” in the field, in your facilities, in your office? What other safety procedures to help protect your employees?  

Suggestion: Create a scenario plan, i.e., have each employee write down what they do and share passwords, etc. This is will help mitigate later problems in the event multiple people become sick.

  • Require employees who must come to the facility to avoid common areas such as lunch breakrooms, open office areas, etc.
  • Keep trucks outside to keep contamination at bay.
  • Assign trucks and equipment to specific employees to decrease number of people in contact with multiple trucks and pieces of equipment.
  • Provide important updates and information via an employee-only website.
  • Require more frequent deep cleaning in all areas.
  • Hold meetings/conference/informal gatherings virtually. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting all offer excellent channels through which to connect and share.

 Have you changed any material handling procedures? If so, how?

Poll: Sixty-two percent have not seen much change in the market demand for recyclables while 29% have seen a decrease and 10% have seen an increase.

  • Suspended recycling pickups. Some jurisdictions have temporarily suspended curbside recycling pick-up. Others are either pushing recyclables to the landfill or letting materials sit in transfer station until a later date.
  • Transferred idled highway constructions employees to help sanitation department pick up trash/recycling. Once the routes are completed, employees are sent home for their safety.
  • Collects trash only stored in carts or personally owned cans. No loose, bundled or bagged materials accepted.
  • Temporarily prohibit or stagger self-haulers’ access to transfer stations to maximize social distancing.

 What new questions are you hearing from customers? How have you responded?

Customer service departments have seen a marked increase in calls re hours/services as well as more kudos/appreciation from customers. Reminder that National Garbage Man Day is June 17th!

  • Using social media and eblasts to inform customers regarding continued services and to provide tips to help keep solid waste employees stay safe.
  • Cancelled all community programs such as hazardous household and shredding events so avoid large crowds.
  • Eliminated onsite payments at the local landfill to limit the handling of money. Customers can be billed at a later day.
  • Closed customer service centers entirely.

Other steps taken to slow the spread of COVID-19:

  • Farmers markets are being cancelled in several states because of the concerns over not knowing who is handling what and how is it being handled.
  • Earth Day events are being cancelled. Some alternative ways to provide outreach aside from social media campaign options are worksheets, online games, etc.

We hope to continue the conversation in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please feel free to share your concerns, suggestions, and/or solutions to info@marylandrecyclingnetwork.org.

Featured photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash.