A coronavirus outbreak among staff at the city’s east side solid waste yard will cause Baltimore recycling services to be suspended for three weeks, the public works acting director told the City Council late Tuesday.
Matthew Garbark, acting director of the Department of Public Works, said effective Wednesday all operations from the east side solid waste yard will be suspended so employees can stay home and self-isolate. Fifteen sanitation workers have tested positive for the virus, including seven at the east side location. Twenty will be isolating at home.
To divert crews to handle essential sanitation duties, Garbark told the council, recycling collection will be suspended across the city for three weeks. In a news release later Tuesday night, he said the suspension is effective immediately.
Trash collection is expected to continue uninterrupted, although John Chalmers, head of the city’s Bureau of Solid Waste, said residents may see some delays to their usual pickup schedules. In Baltimore, recycling collection is separate from trash collection.
“We ask you to be patient,” Chalmers told the council, explaining that the crews may be working in areas or jobs they are unfamiliar with.
“We have to take these measures. The human capital that we have, those employees are near and dear to us.”
Chalmers said the bureau has “an abundance of” personal protective gear. Qualifying employees are receiving hazard pay, he said.
The announcement follows an email from the agency last week that warned “DPW’s Bureau of Solid Waste has experienced fluctuations in staffing levels and has had to make adjustments to respond to COVID-19.”
“It has reached a state where we needed to act," Garbark told the council, explaining that the situation was unfolding rapidly Tuesday.
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Chalmers said residents can drop off their recycling or bulk trash at certain locations as the agency works to provide services through the pandemic.
Also at the hearing, retiring Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke advocated for more funding to support a “zero waste” plan for the city. It is part of a movement to boost public works funding by $16 million to find new ways to divert waste from landfills.
The money would provide 65-gallon recycling carts and 25-gallon composting containers for organic waste. Under the proposal, the city’s 200,000 households would have three bins, one for trash, one for recycling and one for organic waste.
The council is expected to vote Monday on the budget that begins July 1. The spending plan is put forth by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. The council can negotiate with the Young administration and cut funding in the proposed budget, but members cannot increase spending.