Garbage Workers

Garbage workers are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 virus, as Pro Disposal garbage worker Abe Dehne picks up garbage along Sunshine Avenue in Westmont on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Some garbage collection companies in the Johnstown area and across western Pennsylvania are asking their customers to bag up all their trash to help protect their workers from coronavirus.

Advanced Disposal, which has a hauling facility in Somerset and collects trash in Ferndale Borough and Stonycreek Township, Cambria County, said Tuesday that all trash must be bagged “due to the recent activity surrounding COVID-19.” The company said it would no longer collect trash that is not bagged, noting that the Centers for Disease Control has determined that the virus can remain viable for hours or days on a variety materials.

Residents who use trash cans or other containers must bag the trash inside the container, Advanced Disposal said. Grocery bags full of trash will not be collected. Recyclables can remain loose in their bins.

Waste Management said Wednesday that it is suspending the performance of several services deemed non-essential throughout western Pennsylvania. Those services are collection of bulk items such as furniture, carpets, mattresses and appliances; collection of yard waste such as grass clippings, tree limbs and brush; and spring and bulk clean-ups.

The company said the suspension was put in place “to maintain its focus on municipal solid waste collection and disposal and due to the reduced number of employees in the field” and that it will be lifted when social distancing recommendations are eased and the company’s workforce returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Also, Waste Management said all trash must be bagged, sealed and wherever possible placed in containers, and that all recyclables, including cardboard, must be placed inside recycling bins. Loose trash items and recyclables left outside of bins will not be collected, the company said.

Author Adam Minter opined in a column published Monday on Bloomberg.com that trash collectors are “on the frontlines” of the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that the pandemic is likely to lead to increased production medical waste – and that more home quarantining and self-isolating means some of that medical waste will wind up in residential trash bins.

Minter said the CDC recommends using gloves when handling trash generated by a sick person, as well as double-bagging all trash or placing it in “durable bags (that are) unlikely to rip, tear or burst.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday that some Pittsburgh sanitation workers were refusing to collect trash until they are given masks and other protective equipment to protect them from coronavirus. The workers rallied on Wednesday morning outside the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services until they were sent home with pay and told to come back Thursday after union leaders meet with management, according to the newspaper.

Chuck Stiles, director of the Waste and Recycling Division of the Teamsters union, sent letters last week to the United States’ “Big Three” trash collection companies – Waste Management, Waste Connections and Republic Services – asking for details on what the companies are doing to ensure workers’ health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stiles wrote on the union’s website Monday that Waste Management’s response “contained many positive proposals including job security, guaranteed pay and excused absences for workers during the crisis”; that Waste Connections assured the union it would respond to the letter; and that Republic Services did not reply.

The union also provided its 154 waste locals with generic form letters to be sent to smaller employers, outlining the union’s health and safety recommendations and requests.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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