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  • Nate Morris

How and Why We Must Protect America’s Waste and Recycling Haulers During COVID-19

Here’s a hint: Forget about spring cleaning for now

As the COVID-19 public health emergency continues to unfold across the United States and the world, each day we are forced to adjust to the new realities of how we live, work, raise our families, and stay safe and healthy.

There are many unsung heroes in this global pandemic; among them are the residential garbage men and women who are on the frontline in communities all across our great country. Many of these heroes work for city governments and are essential providers in a time when we are seeing a dramatic increase in the volume of garbage as the sharp rise in individuals working from home means we are throwing away more residential waste and recycling than ever before.

Being a garbage collector is one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the world. More often than not, this work is out of sight and out of mind; but during our current public health emergency, this work is suddenly more visible than ever. The link between this critical work and maintaining the public health is indisputable, and these everyday heroes are fighting each day to keep our communities safe and ensure that we maintain our quality of life.

At Rubicon® we believe it is essential that we honor our great waste and recycling hauling partners—the local garbage men and women—at every turn. In my mind, there is no greater way to look out for them during this challenging time than by ensuring their physical and economic safety.

Improving Haulers’ Physical and Economic Safety

While there are severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel across the country, the same is true for our nation’s sanitation workers.

Thankfully, many city government sanitation departments and independent haulers are looking out for their workers by helping them stay healthy on the job, as in this example out of Kansas City, Mo, by providing their workers with safety equipment including face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, as well as best practice guidance on how to stay safe during COVID-19. We applaud city governments, like Kansas City, MO, that are leading the way in keeping their men and women safe, while at the same time, maintaining the public health of the communities they serve.

Rubicon’s Chief Sustainability Officer, David Rachelson, recently wrote a blog post in which he listed ways in which residents can help to keep sanitation workers safe during our current public health emergency. On top of this, at Rubicon we also recommend thanking your waste and recycling haulers for keeping our communities clean during this crisis by making “thank you” posters. This gesture not only helps to show our appreciation for these men and women—from a socially safe distance, of course—but also provides an outlet for parents to teach their children a valuable lesson about service, as so many of us are searching for innovative ways to continue educating our sons and daughters during the age of COVID-19.

Of course, many local sanitation workers are also feeling economic pressures at this time. It is for this reason that on March 20, 2020 I wrote to President Donald Trump, key Cabinet Secretaries, and U.S. Congressional Leaders urging them to not ignore waste and recycling haulers in the COVID-19 relief package, and that we as a company encourage all haulers that need it to take advantage of the SBA’s coronavirus relief options.

Looking Ahead

Whether you’re a resident quarantined at home, a small business owner wondering how you are going to get through this ordeal, or a city official in charge of your community’s waste and recycling operation, there are several things you can do to look out for haulers, and help to curb residential waste flows, during COVID-19.

Residents can limit the amount of waste and recycling they are leaving curbside. As the Executive Director of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), David Biderman, recently told CNN, holding off on spring cleaning this year is one way to limit curbside waste, noting “ going to put additional pressure on an already pressured solid waste collection system. Wait until things return to normal.”

Cities can also use this horrific crisis as a way to rethink their data and resiliency planning for Q3, Q4, and into the future, getting their existing city assets to work harder to ensure that their budgets are not hit too hard by this momentary economic shock. The smartest city governments will ensure that they revisit their sustainability commitments and consider how to promote a broader definition of resiliency—one that accounts for transitioning to remote work at the flip of a switch—after the peak of the crisis has passed. At Rubicon, we think about city government resiliency on a daily basis and have developed our RUBICONSmartCity™ technology product suite explicitly to assist governments with this timely transition.


Even now, as we face the challenges of COVID-19 and global economic insecurity, Rubicon’s mission to end waste, in all of its forms, remains focused on solutions. John Goldstein, Head of the Sustainable Finance Group at Goldman Sachs, recently noted to Bloomberg that this pandemic has become “a stress test for a field that was ready for it.” I couldn’t agree more.

Companies with sustainability and ESG built into their DNA know that these values account for this broader definition of resiliency, even in the toughest of times. Indeed, the Rubicon team has not missed a beat during the last month. Our mission will drive us forward in the months to come.


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