Coronavirus crisis 'unsung heroes' are waste management workers, industry experts say

Waste removal keeps communities healthy and germ-free

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As a number of workers battle on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus, one key service that often goes overlooked is waste management and recycling.

Waste management is the collection, transportation and disposal or garbage, sewage, recyclables and other waste products in a safe and efficient manner.

It is also an essential piece of the puzzle in the fight against coronavirus to help prevent the illness from spreading.

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“[Waste management workers] are the cornerstone to our communities – making sure they are safe from germs, disease, virus – but they’re the unsung heroes of our communities as well,” Nate Morris, CEO of waste management and recycling technology solutions firm Rubicon Global, told FOX Business. “These are hardworking Americans that get up regardless of the condition and do a job that nobody else wants to do. And we’ve always been able to rely on them.”

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Brandon Wright, vice president of communications at the National Waste & Recycling Association, agreed, telling FOX Business that history has shown when waste collection efforts have ceased, disease and illness have spread most easily. Wright also pointed out that there is a segment of the industry that collects regulated medical waste from hospitals and other health care facilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, improper disposal of some types of waste – like medical – can cause everything from parasitic infections to HIV/AIDS and lung infections.

In order to do their jobs more efficiently despite current conditions, the industry has been asking state and local governments for assistance. The Department of Homeland Security recently designated the industry as part of its critical infrastructure, while the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration has offered some regulatory and compliance relief as well.

“The federal government is quite responsive to our needs,” Wright said, adding that his group has had success working with state and local governments as well.

One area where workers are still facing challenges, however, is in obtaining personal protective equipment – like gloves – necessary for the disposal of regulated medical waste.

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Though waste collection remains in demand, the sector will not be immune to a broader dip in the overall economy.

Stifel analysts issued a note on Sunday predicting the small container and commercial segment of the market could see its April and May sales reduced by as much as 50 percent as businesses shut down and schools close earlier than expected. They also warn that a slow seasonal ramp in construction could be bad news for other parts of the industry.

Morris, whose company connects independent haulers with big-name brands like 7-11, said some of his clients may see up to a 70 percent reduction in business depending on how diversified their business portfolios are.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 467,000 waste management employees in the U.S. as of February. And the industry was short about 5 percent of open positions.

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