The New York Department of Sanitation is preparing for higher-than-normal volumes of material to be collected curbside. | Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

New York City, which has the largest concentration of coronavirus cases in the U.S., is continuing curbside service even as the city’s collection department battles infections among employees.

The New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) told Resource Recycling that 32 department employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency is quarantining employees and adjusting schedules. It has also suspended some special material collection services.

DSNY is the public entity responsible for collecting New York City’s waste and recycling (it also cleans streets and clears snow and ice). The department collects more than 10,500 tons of garbage and 1,760 tons of recyclables every day, according to the DSNY website.

As of March 23, the nation’s largest city had 12,305 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across its population and 98 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Collection deemed an essential service

New York City implemented a stay-at-home order beginning March 20, but the city specified that the recycling sector performs “essential” services, noting “trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal” as operations that will not be ordered to close down.

In addition to the 32 confirmed cases inside DSNY, 27 employees have been quarantined. The numbers include both collection workers and those who work in garages, the department said in a statement.

When a coronavirus test comes back positive, the department closes the garage or facility where the employee works to clean and disinfect the area.

Collection schedules have shifted an hour forward, beginning at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. This was done to avoid crowds and traffic and to limit person-to-person contact, the agency stated.

Meanwhile, the department has suspended pickup services for certain special materials, including collection of e-scrap, household hazardous waste, textiles and food scraps from designated dropoff sites.

Expecting upticks in material volumes

DSNY noted curbside recycling and trash collection services will continue as usual, and in fact the department is preparing for higher-than-normal volumes of material.

“With more and more New Yorkers heeding the city’s advice to stay home and practice social distancing, DSNY expects collection volumes to increase and will respond accordingly,” the agency said in a March 20 release.

A department spokesperson on March 23 said DSNY has seen a tonnage increase of about 2 percent in curbside collections of all material in the past couple weeks.

Sims Municipal Recycling, which handles recyclables collected curbside in New York City, has not seen major changes in supply or downstream movement of recyclables related to the coronavirus.

“For now, the big changes within our municipal recycling operations are in protocols and behaviors to avoid infection from the novel coronavirus,” said Tom Outerbridge, general manager of Sims Municipal Recycling. Such protocols include eliminating physical interactions with truck drivers, social distancing measures, additional cleaning and more.

The company is monitoring regulations to be ready for further changes, Outerbridge said.

This article has been corrected to state that DSNY collects 10,500 tons of garbage and 1,760 tons of recyclables daily, rather than annually.

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