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Supporting Frontline Waste and Recycling Workers Impacted by COVID-19: A Q&A with SWANA’s David Biderman

After last week’s announcement about the creation of the $200,000 Sanitation Workers Support Fund, by Glad and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), we wanted to learn more about this effort to provide assistance to industry workers impacted by COVID-19.

We followed up with David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA. Read on for his take on the effects of the pandemic on front-line workers, why he’s proud to be a part of this industry right now, and how workers can apply and receive support at this critical time.

What are some of the ways waste and recycling workers are suffering with the COVID-19 outbreak?  

The most common way waste and recycling workers are suffering is by testing positive for COVID-19. SWANA estimates that nearly 1,000 solid waste employees in the U.S. and Canada have tested positive, although many of them have recovered and are back on the job. Many of these employees are not front-line workers and are in supervisory or sales positions. 

Another way they are affected is that some front-line employees at solid waste companies have been terminated or furloughed due to the closure of commercial establishments necessitated by state and municipal closure orders. Sadly, approximately eight workers have died from COVID-19, although in none of those cases has it been suggested they got the virus from contact with waste or recyclables.  

Finally, I think many collection workers and recycling processing workers (pickers) are concerned about exposure to COVID-19 from the material they are handling. This is why it is so important for all front-line employees to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)—and for all residents to place their trash into a container or bag, and recyclables into a cart or other container.

Do you think front-line waste and recycling employees are getting the recognition they deserve during this crisis? 

I think one of the very few positive things associated with the pandemic is the growing recognition that solid waste and recycling employees are receiving from customers and in the media. The industry was designated early on as “essential critical infrastructure” by the U.S. government, states, and provinces. While many Americans and Canadians were forced to work from home, the hard-working men and women of the solid waste industry can’t pick up our waste and recycling from home. They are out on the truck, every day, picking up more material than usual, not knowing whether the waste in a cart is from a house with someone infected by COVID-19. Many have noticed this effort, and elected officials in the Oval Office and elsewhere have been mentioning front-line workers. I have never been prouder to be part of this great industry.  

How should workers who believe they qualify for help from the Sanitation Workers Support Fundapply? 

SWANA has established a webpage that contains the application form and guidance discussing the background on the fund and this SWANA/Glad effort to help front-line waste and recycling collection workers. There are FAQs on the webpage, and we encourage eligible workers to review the application and qualifications promptly.  

Although $200,000 is not a small amount of money, and we are very thankful to Glad for funding this effort, there likely are more than 1,000 potentially eligible applicants. Since the minimum amount of money we are distributing is $500, we will not be able to provide money to each eligible applicant.

How quickly do you expect those who are approved for these funds to get their money? 

We would like to distribute funds quickly to eligible applicants, and will be reviewing applications on a weekly basis. Applicants will receive funds more quickly if they provide banking information that allows us to send the money electronically (via ACH) rather than by check. 

We expect some of the approved applicants will start to receive money in mid-May. I am looking forward to reviewing applications in the coming days and weeks and distributing $200,000 to the hard-working men and women of this great industry—as well as sadly, to the immediate family members of front-line collection workers who have died over the past few months from COVID-19.  

Is SWANA looking at any other industry aid programs or partnerships to help with this pandemic? 

A number of SWANA members and chapters have asked whether they can make a contribution to the SWANA/Glad Fund. We want to distribute the Glad money before accepting any other funds, and thereafter, will evaluate whether we want to establish a similar fund to provide even more assistance to the industry. 

I urge some of the larger companies in the industry, or those who sell equipment or technology to the industry, or even philanthropic organizations, to consider working with SWANA to help the front-line heroes who are out there, day and night, in good weather or in bad, picking up the trash, recycling, and food waste. They deserve our support.

For more information and to apply for assistance from the Sanitation Workers Support Fund, visit here.

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