Recycling handlers across the state are concerned about coronavirus exposure despite federal reassurance.
The current federal guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to municipal waste operators is that they can keep handling people's trash and recyclables in the usual way without an extra risk of picking up coronavirus.
“That’s surprising to many of our members and they want to take additional steps," says Reagan Bissonnette, the executive director of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association.
In the case of medical waste that is known or has potential coronavirus contamination, OSHA says that can be handled like other medical waste.
On Friday, the association had a virtual meeting with about 40 of its members to talk about how they’re addressing the coronavirus in terms of facility operations.
Bissonnette she’s seeing a range of tactics implemented by solid waste operators.
On one end, some municipalities that sort recycling are closing their recycling centers, asking residents to either store those recyclables or put them in the trash.
“In the long term, this increased amount of solid waste that’s being generated is going to really increase costs for municipalities – especially for communities that separate their material at their transfer station – it’s going to be much more expensive to throw away their recyclables,” she said.
Some municipalities are ramping down services because of worker shortages.
“It is very challenging that so many people have their children at home,” she said. “That makes it challenging for some communities to keep their workforce fully operational.”
Other municipalities are continuing more or less normal operations by ramping up sanitation, asking residents to consolidate trips and limiting municipal workers’ interactions with the public.
Towns are also seeking advice from the state’s Department of Environmental Services, which regulates municipal waste facilities.