The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global economy in an unprecedented way. The waste and recycling industry—while deemed an essential service and therefore not shut down—has experienced its own set of negative effects, both long and short-term.
To start with, the volume of waste generated has shifted, showing an increase in residential waste streams, with a corresponding decrease in commercial waste. This is largely due to a growing number of people working from home, and the closing of commercial businesses that are deemed non-essential.
Waste collection companies are increasing their sanitation protocols, to mitigate the risk that their employees must face while remaining in business during the outbreak. John Paglia, III, owner of Florida Express Environmental states:
To protect our hard-working customer service driven employees, we wanted to increase our attention to detail by implementing mandatory daily disinfecting and cleaning procedures by our Maintenance Department for each route truck. When a truck finishes from its daily route and is parked, our team uses a germicidal disinfecting detergent. It is applied to all interior surfaces, including, but not limited to, steering wheels, seats, floors, dash, doors, operations controls, buttons, switches, etc. This allows them to worry about the already safety intensive job and gives them the peace of mind every day that they are returning to safe working environment.
The extra care taken by many companies across the solid waste and recycling industry to protect their workers seems to be paying off. In a study conducted by the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF), encompassing nearly 100,000 employees across North America, data appears to be showing that solid waste collection and facility workers as a population have lower instances of COVID-19 confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths when compared to the general population.
Incidences of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths: Solid Waste Collection/Facility Workforce and General U.S. Population
|General Population||Solid Waste Workers|
Solid waste industry COVID data collected 5/14/20 – 5/29/2020. General population COVID data from 5/22/2020 (CDC, Johns Hopkins).
Per capita rates based on 2019 U.S. populations of 327.59 million (US Census Bureau). Data reported by Waste360.
While the news on the health front seems to be positive in regards to the environmental services workforce, many companies are experiencing financial setbacks due to the abrupt shift in our nation's lifestyles and habits. For example, millions of gallons of beer that were destined to be consumed at festivals and sporting events—which are now cancelled—have expired and need to be fed to biodigesters. The wasted beverages alone may total up to $1 billion in losses.
Many are wondering when this pandemic will be over, or at least the changes within our economy that are affecting the waste and recycling industry. Companies are also trying to balance how to save their bottom lines now, while staying prepared for the next phase in our response, which may include beefing the workforce back up again. According to John Morris, COO of Waste Management:
We’re facing this health crisis and for us keeping people employed and paid and making sure that they have health insurance is paramount. We want to be in a position to make sure that we’ve got the right folks on the team to be able to respond and rebound when our customers need us.
Companies large and small are responding in their own way to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wastebits has responded by creating a digital manifest tool that allows generators, haulers, and receiving facilities to share waste manifests without touching physical paper. This allows more people to do their jobs while maintaining social distancing, and has been made available for free to anybody who can benefit from its use.
By following the CDC guidelines and implementing best practices in sanitation and the prevention of the spreading of germs, the waste industry will continue to operate effectively through this time, and by being flexible to the changes in waste streams as our societal habits change, many companies will be poised to come out of this trying time in a stronger position, prepared for the future.