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At the Curb: Coronavirus's Impact on Trash and Recycling in Northeast Ohio

It's still "business as usual," according to officials at Waste Management's Material Recovery Facility in Akron. But some other recycling, bulk pickup, and yard waste programs are being scaled back in Northeast Ohio.
It's still "business as usual," according to officials at Waste Management's Material Recovery Facility in Akron. But some other recycling, bulk pickup, and yard waste programs are being scaled back in Northeast Ohio.

Trash and recycling haulers in Northeast Ohio are seeing an increase in residential garbage as a result of the stay-at-home order from the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the haulers are trying to keep employees safe, and that is leading to some cuts in service, depending on where you live.

At my parents' house in Summit County, it all started with a voice mail.

“This is an important announcement from Republic Services. We are making the following temporary adjustments to your services. We are temporarily suspending bulk collection services …,” the company said.

Republic Services is one of several haulers serving Northeast Ohio. In a statement, the company said it is continuously evaluating ways to ensure employee safety during this pandemic, while still serving customers. Many of the company's trucks haul recyclables to a facility in Akron. The city’s Service Director, Chris Ludle, is also concerned about his employees. And that’s why Republic is cutting pickups of large items to allow employees to social distance.

“Our workers that do this pick up -- it’s manual labor – and some of these require that two of them, together, pick up an item, and they’re less than six feet apart. There’s no way to pick up a stove and be more than six feet apart. And, of course, as you’re picking up something heavy, you’re exhaling. We just thought the best practice would be to stop this temporarily while we get through the surge,” Ludle said.

Those bulk pickups are usually scheduled by residents calling 3-1-1. And this is the time of year when Ludle said the city sees lots of those old stoves and couches on the curb as people tackle spring cleaning.

“If it doesn’t fit in your can, we’re asking you to -- temporarily, if you don’t have another way to get rid of them – if you could stockpile them in your garage. Or the furniture, in your house,” he said.

And if a hauler pulls up and finds a china hutch sitting on the curb?

“We will tag it, and we will go up and put a door hanger on and remind (the resident) that we're not doing that service right now,” Ludle said.

So for the time being, only bulk pickup in Akron is suspended, and regular trash pickup will continue as usual. Recyclables will be hauled to a site near the Goodyear Airdock on the city’s southeast side.

A trip to the MRF

Betty Trimper runs the Material Recovery Facility for another hauler, Waste Management.

“We’ve had to learn how to operate a little bit different [and] make sure that we have social distancing mind. That’s required us maybe to take breaks differently [or] postpone gatherings of meetings," she said. "We haven’t had a large impact of people not being able to come to work that are needed to work at the site. We have contingency plans, if we do have folks who need to stay home or are impacted in the times of the today.”

Waste Management has not had to cut any services.

“At this point, we do not see a change in our operation. We are open, [and] it’s business as usual,” Trimper said.

She said the company is seeing less commercial trash as people work from home, which is driving an increase in residential recycling. Waste Management spokeswoman Kathy Trent said everyone should be paying extra attention to what goes in the recycle bin to cut down on the manpower needed to sort it.

“Break down that cardboard. Paper products, including newspapers, etc., all of that and plastic jugs, steel, tin, aluminum cans: make it clean. Make it dry. Don’t throw away latex disposable gloves [or] things like that. Disinfecting wipes, facial tissues, [and] all those leftover takeout containers – that stuff does not belong in the recycling bin,” Trent said.

Although Waste Management is not cutting any services, Trimper has advice for people like me, whose hauler is going to stop picking up recyclables.

“I would recommend you probably need talk to [your] city to understand what the options are. The guidance that I've heard some collection companies give their communities is: If they've suspended or postponed collection, if that choice was made, was to hold it until collection re-started,” she said.

Some local governments might still have other options, such as drop off collection sites. If not, Republic wants customers -- like my parents in Hudson -- to know that “residents can use their recycle container for overflow of trash volumes during this time.”

Earlier this year, the WKSU series "Reduce, Reuse, Refocus" examined recycling in Summit County, plus the Waste Management MRF and how it handles plastics. 

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