- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2020

People around the D.C. region are taking advantage of stay-at-home orders by doing some spring cleaning, but trash collection services are asking residents to hold off until the pandemic is over.

“We in the county are asking people to be mindful how much trash they are generating,” said Erik Grabowsky, solid waste bureau chief for Arlington County. “This is not the time to clean out your garage or attic.”

With people eating more meals at home than usual, ordering more packages, clearing out storage and doing home improvement projects, trash collection companies are seeing a 6% to 30 % increase in the tons of trash they collect, which is straining the staff.



Arlington County, which services about 33,200 homes, no longer is providing bulk collection because of the increased volume, Mr. Grabowsky said.

Willie Wainer, chief of recycling and resource management in Montgomery County, said the county is still collecting bulk items, but has reduced hours at the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station.

Service at the Shady Grove facility has been restricted to county residents only, Mr. Wainer said, citing an increase in volume as other counties have reduced service.

Montgomery County collects about 1,800 tons of trash daily from residential and non-residential sites. Mr. Wainer estimated that trash collections from the 212,000 homes serviced by the county total about 1,200 tons a day, up from 900 daily tons before the coronavirus.

In the District, residential trash collection has increased about 8%, with 6,273 tons collected in March 2019 and 6,749 tons collected last month, according to the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW), which services about 105,000 single-family homes and buildings with no more than three residential units.

Last week, DPW suspended solid waste dropoff at the Fort Totten Transfer Station, meaning residents can’t drop off bulk items, hazardous waste and e-cycling.

Mr. Wainer and Mr. Grabowsky said their crews are taking several extra hours to complete their routes because of the increased amount of waste, which exacts a physical and mental toll on the workers.

“It does increase a sense of apprehension, you read the CDC report that [the coronavirus] persists on cardboard and plastic surfaces and these guys touch cardboard, and five weeks ago they weren’t really worried about it,” Mr. Grabowsky said. “I am sure it’s in the back of their mind as they perform these services,”

Mr. Grabowsky said his crews already wear gloves, boots, goggles and uniforms to protect themselves, and soon will wear face masks. They also practice social distancing on the job.

Mr. Wainer has about 200 staffers serving about 100 routes per day, and has not yet had a staffing issue due to people calling out sick or asking to stay home because of the virus. Mr. Grabowsky reported the same of his 40-member staff and the 30 staffers who are contracted.

Due to the lack of commercial trash being collected, Mr. Grabowsky said he will be able to pull from those teams to fill the need on the residential side.

Barney Shapiro, owner of Tenleytown Trash, said he has a staff of about 30 workers, but two drivers are out because one tested positive for COVID-19 and the other was told to self-quarantine.

“I have another driver who is just plain scared and I don’t blame him,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding that some supervisors now are driving trucks. “I am not going to order him to come to work if he has trepidation about being in public.”

Mr. Shapiro said he doesn’t have the exact numbers, but has seen an increase in trash collection from the 5,000 customers he serves in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, many of which are apartment buildings.

Unlike the other providers, Mr. Shapiro reported quick route times because there isn’t any car traffic. He said his crews are taking about six hours to complete a route that normally takes eight hours.

“We are a very service oriented company, as such we pick up the trash we don’t leave it,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have plans to reduce service.

Mr. Wainer said that if the situation gets worse, his department will have to reduce service, whether that means limiting bulk collection or only collecting trash every other week like in Philadelphia.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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