“The Smell Of Rotten Meat”: Garbage Is Piling Up Across Major US Cities As COVID Hits Sanitation Workers

Forget about the supply chain of drugs from overseas; we have bigger domestic problems right now.

For example, trash appears to be piling up on streets of several major U.S. cities, as the coronavirus pandemic has more people working from home and as many sanitation workers quarantined due to getting Covid-19, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Two of the hardest hit cities are Baltimore and Philadelphia, but pile-ups are also starting to occur in places like Atlanta and Nashville. In Virginia Beach, garbage men demanding hazard pay went on strike for a day, setting the city back several days. In New York City, trash is also adding up in some commercial corridors due to budget cuts, the article notes. 

David Biderman, executive director and chief executive officer of the Solid Waste Association of North America, told the WSJ: “Both large and small cities have been experiencing this double-whammy of increased waste volume as well as staffing shortages.”

This has caused some people, like residents in South Philadelphia to take action on their own. The West Passyunk Neighborhood Association in South Philadelphia has trucked its own trash to city facilities more than once since the pandemic started. 

James Gitto of Philadelphia said: “Our streets looked like the city was abandoned. It’s a daunting task when you look out and there is trash everywhere.” He complained about the “smell of rotten meat” and listening to “cats fighting over the spoils” at night. Garbage sat outside for so long, he said, that it stained the sidewalk.

Philadelphia sanitation supervisor Wanda Jones said: “You expect every week, on that day, to get your trash picked up. It’s frustrating for us not to be able to meet the needs.”

She attributed the pile ups to sanitation workers being scared of Covid-19: “In the back of your mind, there is always worry and concern. Am I going to take it home to my children, to my spouse, to my mother?”

Since the middle of the summer, Philadelphia has collected about 14,800 tons of trash a week from houses, which is up from about 10,700 a year prior. Personnel issues for sanitation businesses started in April and have persisted. Now, about 30% of sanitation staff is not working, versus 15% to 20% on average. 

Trash complaints in the city are up 90% compared to the same period last year. The city is trying to combat this by hiring temporary workers. Scott McGrath, who oversees sanitation services for the city, said: “We’re slowly catching up. We try to tell people, just try to be patient.”

Nashville is having its own problems. Sharon Smith, assistant public works director, commented: “Nashville hasn’t had staffing shortages but still has grappled with increased residential trash volume.” The city’s trash volume is up about 13%, which has caused some delays in pick ups. “Everything is just taking longer than it normally would have,” Smith concluded.

Trash complaints in Nashville are up 543% from a year prior. 

Baltimore had so many sanitation workers test positive for Covid that public works simply closed its operations center that serves the east side of the city. Then, hot weather started to take its toll on mask-wearing workers, resulting in a slew of injuries and ailments that further crippled the city’s sanitation workers.

Meanwhile, trash volumes in the city keeps growing. Its up 35% since last year while, at the same time, the city has 150 to 160 workers on duty – down from the 210 it usually needs. 

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