The Effects of a Pandemic on Waste Disposal

If there’s one constant about the human race, it’s that we’re constantly generating waste. Nearly everything we touch on a daily basis comes with some sort of packaging – from our food to our clothes to our toiletries and everything in between. Nobody wants to deal with garbage themselves, so we pack it up, send it off to the waste operators, and hope we never see it again.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on almost every aspect of our lives – and that pipeline that treks the trash away is no different. So how is the waste sector coping with the pandemic?

Adapting to the New Normal

Municipal waste operators had to work fast to adapt their waste management solutions to the realities of the pandemic. Residential waste volumes drastically increased with the influx of people self-quarantining in their homes. With the massive influx of household trash came the redirection of resources in order to address the situation.

Communities nationwide took different steps, some suspending yard waste collection, others pausing curbside recycling pickup. Waste collection companies shifted their workers away from the commercial routes where businesses sat empty and towards the suburbs. They also made plans for the worst case scenario – their drivers getting sick.

Even now, as communities across North America have begun re-opening their doors, concerns persist about exposure to the front-line workers. Labor unions are pushing for answers around paid leave, and social distancing rules and requirements are forcing changes around collection routes.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become even more important than ever before. All too often, industry accidents happen because employees simply don’t like wearing extra protective gear or find it uncomfortable. A renewed emphasis and enforcement on wearing proper PPE has taken hold, and waste operators are getting it wherever they can despite the shortage.

For example, take Barney Shapiro, the owner of Tenleytown Trash operating in Washington, DC, and Maryland. Shapiro has turned to the Washington National Opera’s costume department, who are sewing masks for frontline workers. He jumped at the chance for extra masks because, like the rest of the waste management industry, Shapiro knows that the health and safety of his employees directly correlates to how well the massive influx of trash gets handled.

As the re-opening phase begins, even more new challenges appear with it. Waste operators are now dealing with the impacts of the measures taken during the initial phase of the pandemic – once again forced to adapt to stabilize operations. Waste operators across the globe are coming together to make plans for the transition to a post-pandemic world, sharing best practices while also tackling the unique challenges of their own environments.

Despite the difficulties and thankless nature of their jobs, waste operators have kept us from drowning in our own trash throughout the course of one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. So next time you see a waste disposal worker – make sure to say thanks.