When the lockdown started last year, we were told essential services would continue. Trash collection is certainly an essential service. It continues, right? But how do you collect trash during a pandemic? And who is going to do it?
As Wes Troth, the manager of ATM's concierge trash services said, "Everyone at ATM knows our mission is 'to reduce costs and problems of trash.' Collecting trash during Covid-19 was a huge problem for our clients. From the start, our whole team was committed to solving this problem. Having the will to do it is what our company and our concierge staﬀ is all about."
Making the commitment was big, especially when garbage haulers were refusing to touch trash. But it had to be done safely. "Our employees' safety remains our top priority," said Karen Troth, ATM's Director of Internal Operations and Senior Safety Manager. This meant new collection methods integrating full PPE and proper social distancing protocols. It also meant an abundance of safety gear: masks, gloves, hand sanitizer. "That was the hardest part," Karen added. "Recall at the beginning of the pandemic, masks and gloves were being prioritized for health care workers. There were shortages everywhere. But we couldn't operate without this equipment. It meant scrounging on both the internet and in obscure shops to nail down the masks and gloves we needed."
Another problem for trash collectors was the sheer volume of materials. With everyone was locked down, products and services were pouring into people's homes. The result was a huge increase in all trash streams: waste, recyclables, organics and especially cardboard boxes. "What is normally hard work became even harder, " says Wes Troth.
Then there were unforeseen issues, such as the day the concierge workers encountered a pile of trash in front of a home with the sign, "Covid positive" attached to it. "How do you handle that?" Asked Wes. [Answer: you give it time, you sanitize the materials as best you can and then you haul them oﬀ.]
Finally, there was managing employee availability. ATM implemented very stringent stay-at-home and testing protocols for anyone who was ill or exposed to a Covid-positive person. "Staying fully staﬀed was an issue . . . but somehow we always found the people necessary to collect the trash."
With, thankfully, the pandemic in California waning and things returning to a more normal state, trash collection has become a little less challenging, if only because trash levels are declining. But the concierge staﬀ is still wearing full PPE and still working extra hard for ATM's clients. "We've been in this business for three decades," said ATM COO, Steven Seltzer, "and collecting trash during a pandemic has clearly been the toughest challenge we faced. I am so proud of our how our concierge team and their managers executed this daunting assignment. At the end of last year, during our (remote) annual meeting, I proudly announced our whole concierge team had won our JWD medals. Truly collecting trash successfully in a pandemic is a job well done."