Residential solid waste surges amid stay-at-home

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FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) — On a typical week, a number of residents skip putting out garbage and recycling bins. Or that’s at least how it used to be.

Assistant Director of Public Utilities Jerry Schuber sees this happen seasonally with green yard waste bins.  He says in those typical weeks, some people don’t have enough trash or recycling to make pulling out the bins worthwhile.  Those times now appear to be over.

The tonnage of solid waste collected from homes in Fresno increased 9% since the start of state and local stay-at-home orders.

Schuber says it increases the department’s workload. “[They’re] picking up more material and going back and getting extra material.  It’s a longer day… Doing a little more hussle because set-out rates are a little higher.  Our folks are stepping up to the challenge and getting it done every day.”

That’s on top of extra steps to help protect the health of the solid waste collectors.

Truck drivers are now assigned and dispatched from the parking lot instead of inside the public utilities offices.  Working time is tracked on paper instead of the punch clock.  Workers are also assigned personal protective equipment (PPE).

Schuber says, “Sanitation workers are like the number two on the list of people on the emergency response list of the governor.  You have health workers and then you have first responders, law enforcement and public works — people listed as most important as first response. So sanitation is a huge piece of what you do to keep a community safe and healthy.”

This increase is of course paired with a marked decrease in commercial solid waste.  In Fresno, commercial waste is not collected and hauled away by city workers.

Whether moved by public or private means, streams of waste soon combine when unloaded from trucks at facilities like the Cedar Avenue Recycling and Transfer Station.  Here, another new problem surfaces.

Richard Caglia of Caglia Environmental says “We’ve noticed the amount of residual or trash going into the recycling it’s in the high 40% and normally we see something lower.”

Employees must separate trash when sorting materials for recycling.  This is often done by hand. The increase in contaminants in the recycling stream means more people in more contact with waste, which increases risk and cost.

It’s not just recycling.  Schuber says, “If someone puts garbage in a green waste container it’s a contaminant.  … they have to go through and pick through it.”

Residents can help streamline the collection process by properly preparing their bins for truck pick-up. “Make sure your waste is in the can and the lid is closed.  Make sure that the can is separate [from other bins].  It is supposed to be four feet apart.  Try to make sure that the materials are separate like they’re supposed to be.  Do you best to make sure that the materials in the container are the proper materials.”

“Anything you can do to make sure that we’re not physically having to touch the waste is helpful to us.”

Caglia speculates the increase in contaminants in collected recycling may occur for a number of reasons, “People just might be running out of room in their trash cans so they’re putting more in they’re recycling can that they probably shouldn’t be putting in there.” He also says, “People that are staying home who are normally at work. Maybe they’re not the ones who are normally taking out the trash. With more kids staying home and their parents are telling them take out the trash maybe the children aren’t being educated and they’re putting recyclables in the trash or trash in the recycling.”

Residents who have more solid than will fit in the proper bin should call 3-1-1 (or 621-CITY) for additional servicing options, which may require a fee.

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