NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The omicron variant of the coronavirus has sickened so many cleaning workers across the United States that some cities have had to defer or suspend garbage and recyclables collection, infuriating residents concerned that authorities cannot cover one of the most basic services.
Because of this, recycling bins filled with Christmas gift boxes and wrapping paper languish on Nashville sidewalks, garbage bags pile up on Philadelphia streets, and yard waste clogs Atlanta sidewalks.
“It’s a shame,” said Madelyn Rubin, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where authorities have suspended recycling collection.
“You know they could find the money to do it if they wanted to,” he added. “If it was a company that wanted to come, they would put up the money to make it happen.”
Cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Lousville are so short-staffed that they’ve temporarily suspended collection of recyclable items like bottles, cans, paper and plastic, yard waste or bulky junk to focus on the smellier, nastier waste. Delays are more than an inconvenience to residents, as they can lead to sewer and sidewalk clogs.
Nashville City Council member Freddie O’Connell was just as surprised as his constituents when he was notified before Christmas that the city had decided to suspend collection of recyclables left on the streets.
“I was surprised that there was no alternative or backup plan,” he said. “No phone lines for people who have mobility issues or lack safe access to a vehicle” to transport their recyclables to where they are concentrated.
“It feels like a government failure,” he added.
In fact, the garbage collection crisis is the third of the pandemic. The first occurred in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread in the United States. The problems reappeared with a new spike in cases during the summer due to the delta variant.
The Solid Waste Association of America recommended to officials and garbage collectors in December to “plan now to address staffing shortages.”
The contagious omicron variant showed up just when Americans were creating a lot of garbage: around the holidays. Combine that with a relatively low level of vaccination among front-line cleanup workers and you have a “perfect storm for delayed harvesting,” Association Executive Director David Biderman said this week.
In some communities, up to a quarter of the garbage collection workforce is calling in sick, he noted.