Hurricane Isabel Tests Collection Operations

AFTER HURRICANE ISABEL tore through parts of the East Coast, residents were left with a mess, and haulers have been faced with challenges that have altered their normal pickup and disposal practices.

According to David Helmecki, program manager for the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), the hurricane hit the East Coast Thursday, Sept. 18, and by Saturday, Sept. 20, trash pickup had resumed in most communities. However, the real problems, Helmecki says, were caused by high amounts of yard waste and the lack of electricity in many areas damaged by Isabel. SWANA has estimated that crews have been collecting 10 times the normal amount of yard waste for this time of year. The exceptionally high mass of waste has caused a lag in collection for residents, and some haulers have experienced injuries as a result of heavy loads left by residents for pickup.

The lack of electricity also caused two major problems. As haulers encountered in the recent blackout in the Northeast, a large amount of food waste is created when many residents discard contents of refrigerators and freezers. Also, electricity was not available for a time to power grinders and other machinery used at composting and landfill facilities.

However, the Isabel disaster could have been worse, Helmecki says. Yard waste is easier, he says, because it does not attract vermin, and transportation has not been as difficult as it is in winter conditions.

Some areas have waived tipping fees to speed collection and transfer, and many haulers have been working longer shifts. However, Helmecki notes that the likelihood of accidents increases when crews work long hours and is encouraging residents to remain patient.