Garbage collectors are unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic

The sacrifices America’s doctors, nurses and other first responders are making to care for coronavirus patients are receiving an outpouring of praise and thanks.

But another group of workers risking their health to perform their duties during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t getting nearly as much attention: the nation’s garbage collectors.

“We handle a lot of items that, if not handled properly, could cause injury or illness,” said Jason Zepp, head of the Georgia chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association. “[But] we have a low rate of illness and injury because we do a good job issuing the proper protective equipment.”


Sanitation is considered an essential public health service. Thus, garbage collection is among the industries that has not been sidelined by COVID-19.

Although garbage and recyclables collection trucks have continued to ply the streets during the coronavirus crisis, workers have been taking extra precautions.

“We’re sensitive to adding more PPE [personal protective equipment], making sure we have plenty of sanitizers and gloves and sanitizing the truck at the end of the day,” Zepp said.

Zepp said there also are extra precautions customers can take to help sanitation workers keep the streets clean during the pandemic.

He suggested customers take note of flyers, emails and other types of notifications from sanitation companies of changes in service that might be necessitated by the pandemic. Some companies, for example, are not accepting yard waste to save more room for the additional household garbage people are generating while sheltering in place and to keep workers safe.

Even in normal times, collecting garbage is considered hazardous duty. It’s the fifth-most dangerous job in America, behind only logging, commercial fishing, flying aircraft and installing roofs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We tell customers to try to keep everything inside the cart so our men and women don’t have to pick up loose trash or debris that might have fallen,” Zepp said.

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