Omicron may affect waste collection

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is concerned that increased delays in solid waste collection are likely to occur over the holidays and into January and encourages municipal solid waste officials and haulers to plan now for staffing shortages.

The sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, combined with the seasonal uptick in residential waste and recyclables associated with Christmas, could stress some solid waste collection systems.

“A substantial percentage of front-line collection workers are not vaccinated, and some may get sick from COVID in the coming weeks,” stated David Biderman, SWANA Executive Director and CEO.

“This could make it difficult for some haulers or local sanitation departments to fulfill all of their collection obligations, at the same time that residential waste and recycling volumes increase around the holidays. We urge all solid waste officials and haulers to plan for how they intend to address a shortage in collection workers.”

Many communities throughout the United States experienced collection delays in Spring and Summer 2021, as haulers and local governments experienced difficulty attracting and retaining qualified collection workers. SWANA issued a report in May 2021 addressing the labour shortage.

Earlier this week, Nashville announced it was temporarily suspending curbside recycling collection, in response to staffing shortages and the bankruptcy filing of a key City waste contractor. Nashville is reassigning recycling trucks to trash collection to ensure that all trash routes are collected on schedule.

Dozens of communities have temporarily suspended curbside recycling collection during the pandemic.

The number of new cases is expected to increase for the rest of 2021 and into January 2022.

Solid waste officials and haulers have been dealing with worker shortages, increased residential waste, and evolving COVID risks since the start of the pandemic. The increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant will likely result in collection delays in some communities, and SWANA urges elected officials and the general public to be patient if agencies and haulers are forced to adjust collection schedules.