Woodlands officials: PPE should not be put in recycling bin

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A national trend that began in the early weeks of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has been witnessed in The Woodlands, too, with officials reporting a massive increase in the amount of trash being generated by residents. And, as the pandemic continues, waste and refuse companies are now asking that contaminated PPE products be thrown away in a safe manner and not put into recycling bins.


John Geiger, the manager for the Environmental Services Department of The Woodlands, said trash collections have increased about 30 percent in the past several months over the normal amount collected by Waste Management, the township’s trash provider.

“Nationally, there has been about a 20 percent solid waste increase. There is spring cleaning going on, and people are staying home. In Chicago, (trash volume) is up 50 percent. Here, we are up 30 percent since COVID hit,” Geiger said. “There is just a lot more trash in general as people clean out their houses and are home more. We’ve seen an uptick in bulk pick up, those are items too big to fit in your (trash) cart…a lot of people are taking the time to go through their bigger items and get rid of that stuff…furniture, large yard toys…those types of things.”




In regard to recycling, Geiger said there are two critical rules to follow for recycling: residents should not put any used PPE in the recycle bin and no traditional recycling items should be placed inside bags.


“As far as recycling goes, we’re seeing heavy volumes there as well. One message I would pass on is to help keep the Waste Management staff safe as they deal with this material is to keep it out of bags. If they see material in bags they often times mistake it for trash and it goes to the landfill,” he noted. “We encourage people to not put any recycling in bags.”

Geiger said all personal protective equipment and any contaminated items from a COVID-19 positive patient such as tissue, wipes or face masks should be placed inside at least one trash bag and sealed. If possible, placing the contaminated items in a second plastic bag will enhance the safety of trash collection and sorting staff, especially if a person in a household has tested positive for COVID-19.


“(Waste Management) have taken a number of steps to keep their staff safe. The drivers do not have to wear a mask inside the (trash) truck but when they get out of the truck, they do. They are doing a lot more sanitizing of their equipment. The recycle center staff has always worn PPE as contamination has always been a concern there,” he added. “They have instituted (social distancing) guidelines. We do recommend that (residents) double bag (contaminated items). Secure it and put it in your trash (not recycling). There is no personal protective gear allowed in recycling…no gloves, no masks, no nothing. Waste Management is finding a lot of gloves in recycling. (Gloves) cannot be recycled and it compromises the safety of recycling workers.”

The township entered into a new five-year contract with Waste Management in January which had a clause that penalized the township if the recycling contamination rate exceeds 25 percent. Contaminated recycling can be anything from a greasy pizza box to soda pop cans with liquid or other trash stuffed inside it. The Environmental Services staff made a proper recycling education program, called “Recycle Right,” in early 2020 which included tip sheets attached to every recycle bin at every home in the township.

“That is going fantastic,” he noted. “we’ve seen about a 30 percent decrease in (recycling) contamination. We are about 21 percent (contamination)…the community has responded well to that. Not only are (Waste Management) shifting to these heavy collection volumes, they’re doing it while dealing with COVID at the same time, it is a double whammy. They have done a great job so far.””


jeff.forward@chron.com

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