Throughout Skagit County, garbage and recycling collectors are ensuring those services continue amid the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
While discarded items may have been used by those infected with COVID-19, standard procedures for city, county and Waste Management crews should already prevent workers from having direct contact with garbage and recycling.
“Transmission through solid waste is not really an issue,” Skagit County Solid Waste Division Manager Margo Gillaspy said.
Collection vehicles are automated and workers are equipped with gloves, eye protection and hand sanitizer.
Anacortes Solid Waste Supervisor Matt Koegel said in an email that those personal protection items are now more broadly distributed throughout the city’s trucks and shops.
“My crews have gloves and hand sanitizer in their trucks. We are automated collection, so we aren’t touching the garbage,” he said.
Those measures are sufficient to protect workers, according to the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration and Solid Waste Association of North America.
“Generally, management of waste that is suspected or known to contain or be contaminated with COVID-19 does not require special precautions beyond those already used to protect workers from the hazards they encounter during their routine job tasks in solid waste,” OSHA said in an online statement.
For that reason, Waste Management and the city solid waste departments of Anacortes, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley are operating as usual.
Mount Vernon Public Works Director Esco Bell said the biggest change for solid waste workers has been for in-office work.
“We’re disinfecting all of our spaces,” he said. “We are also practicing social distancing, so we staggered our shifts so that there don’t have to be as many people in the building at one time.”
Another area where solid waste workers have adopted a temporary practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is at Skagit County transfer stations that accept garbage and recycling by drop-off.
Gillaspy said workers at those sites are now equipped with single-use paper cards to provide customers at their scalehouses with the weight of their disposals.
“We had been using plastic cards and we had been cleaning those cards, but now we’re not handing those back out,” she said. “That’s for customers, that’s for scalehouse staff.”
Staff are also wearing gloves and frequently wiping down equipment. Gillaspy said with those measures in place, she expects transfer station services to continue normally.
“I feel this is an essential service,” she said. “We really need to be open, we need to keep removing solid waste.”
Bell said one way residents can help enhance safety for solid waste workers is to ensure garbage and recycling are in their containers.
“We would like residents to make sure the garbage, the solid waste, is in the containers so the workers don’t have to handle it directly,” he said.