Waste Management

Trash pickups in Sonora and Tuolumne County may be delayed between one and five days through the end of the year due to almost half of Waste Management dump-truck drivers currently under COVID-19 quarantine. 

Paul Rosynsky, spokesman for Waste Management based in Oakland, said in an email on Monday that service delays could continue through the end of 2020 due to "the uncertainties of COVID-19 and its impact on our workforce," specifically, a shortage of available drivers.

"Waste Management is still collecting trash, but it might be delayed for several days,” he said. “We placed roll-off containers throughout the community to provide customers with more disposal options. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank customers for their understanding." 

Waste Management serves approximately 14,000 customers in Tuolumne County. 

As a result of the delays, the trash from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is piling up in roll-off container dumpsters and two-wheeled waste containers outside homes and in neighborhoods throughout the county. 

Some are concerned trash accumulation could grow from a nuisance to a public health issue due to many people either quarantined at home or sheltering-in-place.

"We're supposed to get picked up on Tuesday and we didn't get it picked up until Saturday,” said Cynthia Francis, of the Phoenix Lake Country Club Estates Property Owners Association. “The stuff is all sitting out in the cans, and of course people are still making trash, so the cans are over full and the lids are all open. The raccoons are going to climb in there and have lunch. That's a mess when they do that. If that continues, eventually that's going to happen."

The trash accumulation is another domino-effect consequence of the deepening COVID-19 crisis in the county, which has faced a resurgent and unprecedented increase in positive cases over recent weeks. The surge has landed the county alongside dozens of others the most severe tier of California’s color-coded reopening system (purple), affecting local commerce as well as traditionally reliable utility services.

Gov. Gavin Newsom warned on Monday that he may reinstate a stay-at-home order throughout the state due to the increase in cases and the possibility of the state hospital system meeting their capacity for ICU beds. Statewide, approximately 75% of ICU beds are now filled, with a significant portion from COVID-19 cases. 

Some customers received notifications since the last week notifying them residential services were rescheduled. The notifications identified communities that were delayed and new dates of service.

Francis said her household only has two people and her trash cans still have room, but said she observed some homes challenged for trash space within the community.

"You can go up and down Phoenix Lake Road, it's happening everywhere," she said. "It's another one of those lovely 2020 things. We will have to make due."

Francis said individual homes in the area have accounts with Waste Management for trash pickup. There are more than 300 homes in the association, and owners are all members, but membership varies based on occupancy and property ownership, she said.

Rosynsky said in an email Monday that almost half of the drivers were quarantined in compliance with CDC guidelines in the Cal Sierra Waste Management region, which services Sonora and Tuolumne County via contracts with local governments. 

"Waste Management is working as quickly as it can to collect all trash in a safe manner with limited drivers,” he said. “We cannot collect all the trash in the county as previously scheduled. We remain hopeful that we’ll have our full complement of drivers back soon.”

Rosynsky said Waste Management drivers were required to follow COVID-19 procedures compliant with local, state and federal requirements. 

"All employees are required to wear proper PPE including face masks, regularly wash their hands, maintain at least six feet of distance between each other and are constantly reminded to stay home if they feel sick,” he said. “In addition, all touch points are routinely cleaned, including truck cabs.”

Waste Management is urging customers with pressing trash needs to bring their refuse to roll-off containers which are placed throughout the county (see box for details).

Customers can access their online accounts to change preferences about notifications related to service delays and can also call the hauling district to receive a voucher for a free drop off at the Waste Management transfer station, located at 19309 Industrial Dr. in Sonora. 

Other refuse companies in the county, including Burns Refuse Service and Moore Bros. Scavenger Service, do not have a contract with Waste Management and utilize the transfer station.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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