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COVID-19: How It Started, How It’s Going, Where It’s Going

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In March 2020, as the world was shutting down in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the waste and recycling industry found out that the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) did not list solid waste pickup and disposal as an essential industry. In response, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) jumped into action on behalf of our members to ensure that one public health emergency did not follow another if regular waste collection couldn’t continue.

When NWRA started to engage the White House, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Small Business Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, we did not know our efforts would be recognized as the top advocacy program by ASAE in 2021. NWRA’s action resulted in more than 100 wins within the first month and the development of numerous safety products that are now available.

Throughout the pandemic, the NWRA Safety Committee shared practices that were working, located supplies for sanitizer and identified procedures to work safely during the crisis. Together, these items formed the Safety Committee’s field guide, a quick reference guide for COVID-19 resources, and work safety guidance documents. These documents were driven by weekly safety calls led by NWRA’s CEO Darrell Smith and resulted in a collaboration with CDC to publish, What Waste Collectors and Recyclers Need to Know about COVID-19. The weekly calls allowed us to stay on top of challenges and opportunities and even helped one member in Idaho prepare for what happened in Idaho about two weeks after what happened on the coasts.

Once our industry was deemed essential, the initial safety procedures and documentation were published, the necessary waivers were received and the government regulators were engaged, we moved to ensure the hardworking, essential individuals of the waste and recycling industry could be vaccinated. NWRA filed comments with the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and worked with the agency so that a member could speak in front of the CDC’s ACIP about why it was important that waste and recycling workers should be in the top tiers to receive vaccinations. Once the testimony was given and comments were filed, NWRA engaged the state’s governors to ensure waste and recycling workers were in the queue for vaccine distribution.

To keep our industry informed on vaccination statuses in each state, NWRA released a Vaccine Distribution Tracker. Now, with most of our industry’s workers vaccinated, we have to prepare for what challenges the Delta variant may bring.

To date, the Delta variant has caused a resurgence in COVID-19 cases throughout the country. To protect one another, young children who are not yet eligible and the industry as a whole, everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine should get a vaccine. Additionally, as an industry, we must continue to put safety first. We encourage you to utilize NWRA’s COVID-19 safety materials, such as best practices, posters, FAQs, etc., along with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA, NIOSH, CDC, National Association of Manufacturers, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates and other pertinent agencies.

If you have questions about any of the safety materials, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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