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'The unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic' | Sanitation workers across the DMV are picking up more residential trash than ever

There's been a big increase in residential trash. Here's what municipalities and you can do to help sanitation workers stay safe.

WASHINGTON — If you’re planning to get outside to work in the yard or tap into your inner Marie Kondo while stuck at home, some local officials are asking you to think again.

Stay at home orders have caused a big increase in residential trash.

David Biderman, Executive Director of the Silver Spring Based Solid Waste Association of North America, said that while commercial garbage collection has gone way down, residential trash is way up across the DC Metro area. 

That’s straining sanitation workers at a time when they need to focus on safety.

"Sanitation workers are the unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic, working hard to pick up our garbage and recycling," he said.

Biderman said the uptick that’s happening nationwide is unprecedented. He says area cities and counties need to focus on essential work, and that means it’s not a good time for yard work or spring cleaning.

“There’s a temptation to clean out the basement, the attic or the garage," Biderman said. "We really need to not do that and put additional stress on the residential collection system."

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The city of Alexandria, as well as Fairfax and Arlington Counties, said they’ve seen as much as a 40 percent increase in residential trash tonnage since mid-March.  

Erik Grabowski, Solid Waste Bureau Chief in Arlington County, said in order to stay on top of the trash, they’re asking people to consider what they put to the curb.

“We do want people to be thoughtful about how people are managing their waste," Grabowski said.

Grabowski said Arlington County has eliminated bulk pick up for now. This includes furniture or large items that don’t fit in bins or may need two people to lift them.

"It’s that separation of material," Grabowski said. "You’d rather separate it, bag it and keep it at arm’s length, but when you’re grabbing a big piece of furniture or something or a mattress, you have to get it close to your face, so that’s why we’re really trying to eliminate the big items for the safety of the employees.” 

Grabowski said the measures are temporary.

Many municipalities are suspending yard trimmings pick-up. 

The city of Alexandria, for example, will stop collecting yard trimmings as of Monday, April 13.  

As far as measures residents can take to help keep sanitation workers stay safe, Grabowski asks that people make sure everything is in bags and fits neatly in bins.  


Grabowski said if there is someone inside the home with Coronavirus it is helpful to double bag that trash. 

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