Residents in the DC area are taking advantage of stay-at-home orders by doing a spring cleaning, but garbage collection services are asking residents to wait until the pandemic is over.
“We in the county are asking people to be careful about how much waste they generate,” said Erik Grabowsky, head of the Arlington County solid waste office. “Now is not the time to clean your garage or attic.”
As people eat more meals at home than usual, order more packages, empty storage and complete home improvement projects, garbage collection companies are seeing a 6-30% increase in tonnes of waste that they collect, which puts a strain on staff.
Arlington County, which serves about 33,200 homes, no longer offers bulk collection due to the increased volume, Grabowsky said.
Willie Wainer, head of recycling and resource management in Montgomery County, said the county still collects items in bulk, but has reduced the hours of operation for the processing facility and transfer station by Shady Grove.
Service at the Shady Grove facility has been limited to county residents, Wainer said, citing an increase in volume as other counties have cut service.
Montgomery County collects approximately 1,800 tonnes of waste daily from residential and non-residential sites. Mr Wainer estimated that garbage collection in the 212,000 homes served by the county totaled about 1,200 tonnes per day, up from 900 tonnes per day before the coronavirus.
In the district, residential waste collection increased by about 8%, with 6,273 tonnes collected in March 2019 and 6,749 tonnes collected last month, according to the city’s Public Works Department (DPW), which serves about 105,000 houses and single-family buildings with no more than three dwellings.
Last week, DPW suspended the solid waste depot at the Fort Totten transfer station, which means residents cannot drop off bulk items, hazardous waste and e-bikes.
Mr Wainer and Mr Grabowsky said their crews are taking several hours of overtime to complete their routes due to the increased amount of waste, which has a physical and mental impact on workers.
“It increases the sense of apprehension, you read the CDC report that said [the coronavirus] persists on cardboard and plastic surfaces and these guys touch cardboard, and five weeks ago they didn’t really care, ”Mr. Grabowsky said. “I’m sure it’s in the back of their minds when they perform these services”,
Mr Grabowsky said his crews already wore gloves, boots, goggles and uniforms to protect themselves, and that they will soon wear face masks. They also practice social distancing at work.
Mr Wainer has around 200 employees serving around 100 routes a day and has yet to experience a staffing issue due to people calling sick or asking to stay home due to the virus. Mr. Grabowsky reported the same of his 40-member staff and 30 contract employees.
Due to the lack of commercial waste collected, Mr Grabowsky said he would be able to call on these teams to meet the needs on the residential side.
Barney Shapiro, owner of Tenleytown Trash, said he has a staff of around 30, but two drivers are absent as one has tested positive for COVID-19 and the other has been asked to self-auto -quarantine.
“I have another driver who is just scared and I don’t blame him,” Shapiro said, adding that some supervisors are now driving trucks. “I’m not going to order him to come to work if he’s afraid of being in public.”
Mr Shapiro said he did not have the exact numbers but saw an increase in garbage collection from the 5,000 clients he serves in the District and Montgomery and Prince George counties, many of which are apartment buildings.
Unlike other suppliers, Mr. Shapiro reported quick journey times as there is no car traffic. He said his crews take around six hours to complete a route that normally takes eight hours.
“We are a very service-oriented company, as such we pick up the trash that we don’t leave,” he said, adding that he had no intention of reducing the service.
Mr Wainer said if the situation worsens, his department will have to cut back on service, whether that’s by limiting bulk pickup or only picking up trash every two weeks, like in Philadelphia.