Trash Stays On Curbs Across The U.S. As Covid Infects Sanitation Workers


Trash and recycling pickup has been delayed or suspended in many U.S. cities as waste crews find themselves understaffed due to coronavirus outbreaks, forcing residents to deal with mounting piles of garbage that have blocked storm drains and obstructed sidewalks.

Key Facts

Recycling collection has faced delays in some parts of the Atlanta area in recent weeks, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday, after more than half of the city’s solid waste crews were sent home with positive Covid-19 tests or symptoms in late December.

In Louisville, Kentucky, drastically understaffed waste management crews temporarily suspended collection of yard waste, bulky items and some recyclables in order to prioritize especially smelly garbage, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Detroit suspended penalties for leaving garbage containers at the curb in some areas after announcing that trash and recycling pickup would be delayed by up to two days, ClickOnDetroit reported January 6.

Trash and recycling pickup in Philadelphia has been delayed by a day or more, as the number of city employees unavailable due to Covid-19 fluctuates on a daily basis, the department announced January 4.

In parts of the Seattle area this week, garbage pickup was paused as drivers for waste disposal company Republic Services halted work in support of striking employees in San Diego, whose demands include personal protective equipment against Covid-19.

Key Background

The rapid spread of the omicron variant, which accounted for 98.3% of U.S. coronavirus cases last week, has led thousands of teachers, firefighters, police and other workers who provide vital services to call in sick. In the waste disposal sector, this wave of infections has been complicated by intense winter weather that has damaged infrastructure or made driving unsafe in some parts of the U.S. Additionally, waste volume is usually higher following the holidays, according to waste and recycling news site Waste Dive. The waste management industry has been supported by Covid-19 relief programs, receiving about $812 million in loans during the first round of Paycheck Protection Program funding in 2020, followed by $40.7 million in the second round last spring, Waste Dive reported.

Crucial Quote

“When people are out, we can’t just hire to replace them,” Philadelphia Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams told the AP. “We have to give them time to get well.” Around 10% to 15% of the city’s 900-person sanitation workforce is off work on any given day, Williams said.

Big Number

$45,000 per year. That’s how much a new waste disposal driver could expect to make in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the AP reported. The city recently raised wages from $31,500.


Up to 25% of employees at New York City’s Department of Sanitation were out sick at any one time around early January, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson told local television station PIX11. Despite this, the city managed to avoid suspending any services by cancelling employees’ days off and extending shifts.

Further Reading

“Garbage and recyclables pile up as omicron takes its toll” (Associated Press)


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