The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) urges the public to take necessary steps to protect sanitation workers from coming into contact with potentially contaminated items. Solid waste collection is a critical and essential job as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The men and women working in the waste and recycling industry are on the frontlines protecting human health and the environment.
“The sanitation department and hauler employees collecting waste and recycling are working under very challenging conditions due to increased residential volumes and concerns over exposure to COVID-19 in material placed at the curb,” said David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA, in a statement. “We urge citizens to help protect these hardworking employees and reduce the burden on the solid waste collection system.”
SWANA asks residents to not participate in spring cleaning at this time because of the large amounts of trash that are already being put out while people stay at home. Some communities report up to a 38 percent increase in residential trash collected. In addition, workers must work even more carefully right now, sometimes with fewer people.
Studies suggest the virus can live on plastic for two to three days and cardboard for 24 hours. For this reason, all trash should be placed in a closed plastic bag or in a container such as a cart. The public can also help protect workers by washing their hands before taking out the trash and by sanitizing the lids and handles of bins and carts.
Medical waste such as masks, gloves, wipes and tissues should never be put into recycling carts or bins. Contaminated materials can be passed along to workers who will later sort it by hand. But make sure these items do end up in the trash. Many communities are seeing high rates of gloves and masks ending up as litter.
Residents should check with their service provider for any changes made at this time, such as closing drop-off centers or suspending yard waste collection. These temporary modifications to service are meant to protect the lives of the hardworking men and women in the waste and recycling industry, as well as the public.
For more tips and guidance, download SWANA’s guidance to protect waste and recycling workers.