The slowdowns, due to worker shortages, strikes, and coronavirus restrictions, have caused recycling bins full of Christmas gift boxes and wrapping paper to languish on Nashville curbs, trash bags to pile up on Philadelphia streets, and uncollected yard waste — grass clippings, leaves, branches — to block sidewalks in Atlanta, according to The Associated Press.
"It’s just a shame," said Madelyn Rubin, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where officials have halted recycling.
"You know that they could find the money to do it if they wanted to," she said. "If it was a business that wanted to come in here, they would dump money in to make it happen."
Cities including Atlanta, Nashville, and Louisville are so shorthanded they have temporarily stopped collecting things like recyclable bottles, cans, paper and plastic, yard waste, or oversized junk to focus on the grosser, smellier stuff. The delays are more than an annoyance to residents, creating problems such as clogged storm drains and blocked sidewalks.
Nashville City Council member Freddie O’Connell was just as surprised as his constituents when he received notice before Christmas that the city was halting curbside recycling.
"I was just stunned there wasn’t an alternative or a back-up plan," he said. "No hotline for people who are mobility impaired or don’t have reliable access to a car" to carry their recyclables to a central drop-off site. In Nashville, staffing shortages exacerbated a problem that includes not enough working garbage trucks and a contract with a bankrupt private trash collector.
"It feels like a failure of governance," he added.
"Is it going to be another week? Is it going to be another day?" Swerens said. "No one really knows."
Garbage collection issues occurred when the pandemic first hit the United States, again when the delta variant peaked, and now for a third time as the omicron variant has caused record infection cases.
Trash collection has also struggled to keep up in Peoria, Arizona, Chesapeake, Virginia, and Chula Vista, California.
The staffing shortages are not unique to sanitation workers as large corporations across the country have announced they have been forced to slash operating hours and suspend certain services due to the inability to find workers.