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Sanitation workers on the front lines of crisis

Monday, April 6, 2020 by Tai Moses

In an appeal to the community, Austin Resource Recovery Director Ken Snipes addresses the importance of sanitation workers, reminding the public that his workers are on the front lines working tirelessly at a job that is “critical to protect our people and communities. These workers are typically not who first come to mind when we think about the front lines, but I think they should be – not ahead of any of the other frontline service providers, but right alongside them.” In a backward glance at the devastating flu pandemic of 1918, Snipes tells us that the disease so thinned the ranks of sanitation workers nationwide that trash piled up 3 feet high in some cities. He writes, “As we fast-forward to 2020 and the Covid-19 outbreak, the question before us now is, What have we learned from the 1918 outbreak and others that we can use to protect our waste collection workers?” Staying at home is not an option for frontline workers such as sanitation staff, so as the Monitor reported last week, workers have doubled up on gloves, are using copious amounts of hand sanitizer and are disinfecting their vehicles “before, during and after each route.” Snipes asks the community to do their part by ensuring that all trash is securely bagged and tied so collections staff will not come into contact with loose garbage. He also asks customers to clean off cart handles when setting the bins out on collection day. “Let’s all do our part to protect these unsung frontline workers so that they and their families remain safe and healthy.”

And for those wondering whether their garbage and recycling will continue to be collected as usual during the pandemic, the city has launched an app to keep customers informed about curbside collections. The Austin Recycles app (available for Apple or Android) pushes reminders about pickup dates as well as alerts if there’s going to be a delay or an interruption in service. Most handy of all, perhaps, is a feature that allows customers to research items they’re uncertain about disposing. Do milk cartons go in the recycling or the trash? And who can remember what to do with those ubiquitous plastic takeout containers? Said Snipes, “We have all been impacted by big changes these last few weeks, and the launch of this app is just one small way to stay up-to-date on any impact to collection services in the future.”

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