IMPERIAL COUNTY — A pandemic produces a lot of trash and a lot of problems for a lot of reasons.
Between the two solid waste/recycling companies operating in Imperial County, they have seen an increase between 5 percent and 25 percent, depending on the location, in volume of residential waste since COVID-19 forced most of us indoors for the last four months.
That doesn’t include the increase in bulk pickup from hospitals and local healthcare facilities over the same amount of time, where the one-time disposal of personal protective equipment has also risen for gowns, gloves, masks and tons of other items that must be changed out or cleaned after every patient.
What’s more, in addition to the effects on local landfills, there have been the human and economic costs to the trash companies, including coronavirus-infected workers and lost revenues due to the many closures that have remained in place for all sorts of businesses and limited operation of restaurants.
Revenue from commercial accounts is down by nearly a third, the two companies say.
“We have found about (a) 25-percent increase in residential trash as people are eating more at home and not eating out. Both of those (commercial and residential accounts) are impacting the revenue of every trash company,” said Dean Ruffridge, senior vice president of CR&R Environmental Services. “We haven’t asked for any relief, but this is very hard for any company to absorb what we are going through.”
“We have lost about 30 percent of our commercial revenue,” Ruffridge said during a recent interview with this newspaper. “So many restaurants, businesses, malls have closed. And we are hoping that it all comes back, but I know of some restaurant owners who have been closed for two to three months — it has just killed them. They don’t know if they will be able to re-open.”
Although to a lesser degree, it has been the same for Allied Waste/Republic Services.
“A lot more trash is being generated due to people staying home. With a 5- to 10-percent waste increase for residential customers, we sometimes have to put an extra driver and truck to meet the schedule,” said German Hernandez, division manager, Allied/Republic.
Medical Waste Increases Significantly
COVID-19 has a major impact on the hospitals, with patient care, staffing and economics being just some of the concerns. There’s the build-up of trash, too.
“With the increase of patients (due to COVID-19), you will have a spike in waste disposal,” stated Dr. Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer, El Centro Regional Medical Center. “We purchased more disposable items (gloves, gowns, masks, etc.), and they are all being disposed of following the guidelines of (Occupational Safety and Health Administration and California Department of Public Health).
“Mid-February we were in the pandemic mode and realized we will be in it for some time. We (healthcare workers) are all trained in use of PPE for COVID-19,” Edward said.
Fortunately, the hospitals or the healthcare facilities don’t have to worry about waste.
Allied Waste/Republic services Calexico clinics, Brawley’s Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District and that area’s clinics, and Imperial Valley College (the “alternate care site” in the college gymnasium, formerly known as the “federal medical station”); CR&R does El Centro Regional Medical Center,” Hernandez said.
“We have bulk pickup for hospitals and have different containers such as the roll-off container, which is a 6-foot by 20-foot-long container at PMH and IVC gym,” Hernandez continued.
COVID’s Toll on Trash Workers
CR&R’s Ruffridge said although most of its workers have since recovered, he said a number of drivers were out following a recently dad-centric holiday.
“It (COVID-19) is impacting our business and drivers; and it depends on the location,” he said. “Right now, El Centro is pretty good. But at one time, we had about eight drivers out in El Centro and almost all of them are back to work now. In Orange County and Garden Grove, we had a lot of men sick with COVID. Everybody is back now.
“After Father’s Day weekend, we found a bad breakout. It hit us (Imperial County) the hardest,” Ruffridge said. “Our risk management division went to each of these areas in Imperial County and was determined that in each case, it (COVID virus) came from family members.
“Risk management has trained the employees what and what not to do. Every morning, there is a 10-minute safety meeting on use of rubber gloves and masks. I feel it is pretty controlled,” Ruffridge continued.
Ruffridge shared how he was scheduled to attend the city of El Centro council meeting a couple of weeks ago. “The general manager, El Centro division, Francisco Ochoa, an exceptional man, called me and told me you can come to the meeting, but I am not letting you into the office. I was grateful how Ochoa took the social distancing seriously and wanted to protect himself and the drivers.”
For Allied/Republic, the company ensures its drivers attend separate tailgate meetings where they are informed of the latest COVID-19 information, trained on social distancing and on the proper use of PPE.
“We pride ourselves on picking up trash on day of service,” Hernandez said. “We are part of the community and stand by you.”
In addition to providing service to its customers, Republic has given back to the communities it serves by donating water, toilet paper and other supplies to the cities of Imperial and Brawley. Allied/Republic will also be reaching out to assist the city of Calexico and community of Niland soon, Hernandez said.
“As we have a family in need, we drop off things at their doorsteps to support each other,” Hernandez said.
What Does the Future Hold?
When asked what he foresees as far as any environmental impacts from COVID-19, Hernandez said, “It is difficult to answer that; however, the more people recycle, it will help in general. We want a better environment — a blue planet, we call it.”
“As for the future impact to the environment, we will evaluate this once it (COVID-19) is over — sooner than later,” Ruffridge said.
The trash companies, and other sources, offered three pieces of advice as the pandemic continues:
“The recycling is taken to our recovery facility and put on a band, and the sorters go through that. If you dispose of PPE (within the recycling bin), you are exposing employees to COVID-19 and are causing more work for them as they have to remove those items,” Hernandez said.
Please be patient as some routes are running behind. Also, drivers have to be more careful with children being out of school.