Story at a glance

  • Cities across the country are struggling to pick-up garbage and recyclables due to staffing shortages driven by the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases.
  • In Nashville, the city had to completely stop picking up recyclables because of staffing and fleet issues.
  • In Baltimore, the Department of Public Works at one point had 340 employees out over a seven-day period during the holidays.

Industries across the board are suffering from staffing shortages due to rising cases of COVID-19 fueled by the omicron variant, and that’s caused garbage and recycling to pile up on curbsides across the country as states suffer from a lack of sanitation workers. 

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) warned localities last month that an increase in delays in garbage collection were likely to occur over the holidays and into the new year, due to a sharp rise in new COVID-19 infections. SWANA said staffing shortages were likely and that local sanitation departments could suffer. 

“A substantial percentage of front-line collection workers are not vaccinated, and some may get sick from COVID in the coming weeks. This could make it difficult for some haulers or local sanitation departments to fulfill all of their collection obligations,” said SWANA CEO David Biderman. 

That seems to be the precise position many cities are in, as they announce adjusted pick-up schedules because of the lack of staff.  


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This week the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) announced it would move to a bi-weekly recycling schedule until further notice due to staffing challenges. Jason Mitchell, director of DPW, said the agency has experienced “severe” staffing shortages over a seven-day period during the holidays and averaged 228 employees out of work. The peak was when 340 employees were out during that same period. 

“This change to bi-weekly recycling collections will help the department manage for the long-term. These modifications are essential to stabilize operations and ensure consistent, predictable, and sustainable services for residents,” said Mitchell. 

The city of Philadelphia found itself in a similar situation, with its Streets Department announcing on Twitter that it anticipated collection delays the first week of January due to a high number of COVID-19 infections among staff. 

Liliana Bakhtiari, Atlanta City Council member, told The Associated Press that because of worker shortages, recycling and yard waste will be picked up “as staffing allows.”  

The staffing shortages and pickup disruptions come just as Americans come off the holiday season involving lots of trash, from Christmas gifts that involved boxes, wrapping paper and more. 

According to the AP, sanitation workers in New York City, which has the largest municipal sanitation force in the world, are working longer hours to clear the backlog of waste, as the city has not suspended any services.  

In Nashville, where staffing shortages and delays have gotten so severe that the city is completely stopping recycling pick-up for now, city officials are urging residents to use reusable plates and dishes to minimize waste, among other tips. The city has offered residents to drop off their recyclables themselves at drop-off sites. 


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Published on Jan 14, 2022