Transactions rise at DSWA landfills during pandemic

A truck, right, brings trash on a trailer as a customer pays as they exit on the left at the Delaware Solid Waste Authority Sandtown Landfill location on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The lines of vehicles waiting to make payments have been long at the Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s three landfills since early spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the state.

However, Michael Parkowski, chief of business and governmental services for the DSWA, said that while the residential waste that is collected at the landfills has gone up over that time, the amount of commercial waste collected has decreased.

While the number of overall transactions at the landfill scales has increased substantially during the coronavirus crisis, the overall amount of waste is actually 1.5% lower than in 2019.

“What we produce at our house is generally stable most of the time, but what’s generated commercially can fluctuate more frequently because of businesses coming in and going out, so there’s more of a fluctuation,” Mr. Parkowski said. “There’s a steady population growth, but it’s slow and takes time, but with commercial, there’s seasons, and it’s a lot more complex with the waste with commercial.

A truck enters the Delaware Solid Waste Authority Sandtown Landfill location on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“So when COVID hit, and all the commercial places shut down, and people stayed home, the residential waste went up, but the commercial waste went way down. So it’s kind of balanced itself out.”

COVID-19 relegated many Delawareans to work from home, which made the household waste increase. What they used to produce at the office, they were now producing at their houses, while eating there and being home most of the time.

“The transactions at the landfill have gone up because more people are going there themselves because people are at home, so they’re like, ‘Oh, let’s clean out the garage, let’s clean out the basement, let’s do this project, let’s do that project, let’s rebuild the deck,’” Mr. Parkowski said. “Whatever it is that they’re doing, they are making more trips to the landfill than people used to.

“A lot of times with that type of thing, you can’t empty your whole content of your basement and put it on your curb and expect the guys to come pick it up with the regular trash truck. So what happens is, they load up a pickup truck or a station wagon or a minivan or they rent a truck, and they come to the landfill with that material themselves.”

He added: “So the overall transactions are higher, but the amount of waste, we’re like 1.5% less than we were last year, which is not really a big deal because it fluctuates. Basically, when everything shut down in March, we saw a huge decrease in the total amount right away, but it started to come back up, and now, we’re pretty much right around normal.”

At the landfill in Sandtown, also known as Central, a total of 33,842 transactions took place between May and August. Over that same time frame in 2019, there were 28,801 total transactions that took place, so there was an increase of 17.5% in transactions this year. There were 8,885 transactions alone at Sandtown in August.

There are similar numbers at DSWA’s other two landfill locations at Cherry Island in Wilmington and Jones Crossroads in Georgetown.

Mr. Parkowski said the workers who collect payments at the scales have been under a lot of stress since the pandemic began. He added that there have been zero reports of workers at the landfills contracting COVID-19.

“We haven’t made any changes, but the one thing I think that’s true is increased activity at the landfill puts a little more stress on the people working in the scale houses — the people that weigh the trucks in and out,” said Mr. Parkowski. “They’re seeing higher volumes of people, and they have to interact with the public, so there’s always that feeling, with the whole COVID situation, the more people, the greater the risk.

“I would say there’s probably some stress on some people more than normal, but I would say they’ve handled it really well. We’ve been safe and smart, and I think our people on the front lines have done an excellent job with handling the volume, because it is stressful.

“If you worked at a fast-food restaurant and your dining room traffic doubled, then you’ve got twice as many people to wait on. It’s the same thing for our people, it’s just a different type of transaction, but it is increased because they have the normal commercial traffic that’s coming in, but they have probably double the residential traffic that’s coming in.”

Over the past month, the DSWA has also seen an increase in visitors in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Delaware on Aug. 4, damaging several homes from Milford to Middletown and bringing down numerous trees.

“I think we’ve seen an increase in vegetative waste — like tree waste, tree limbs, branches — which we don’t landfill that, we manage it separately,” Mr. Parkowski said. “We have a yard waste pile, so when that material comes in, we put it there, and then we have a grinder that comes in and grinds that material to make like a mulch.”

Other than that, Mr. Parkowski said it has pretty much been business as usual at the landfills.

“The majority of people never venture out to landfills,” he said. “Most people get their stuff picked up at their house. With waste in general, which a lot of people don’t think about because they’re just used to what they generate at their house, 50% of the waste is commercial, and 50% of the waste stream is residential.

“Since COVID, there has definitely been an increase in transactions for residential waste, but it is starting to balance itself out.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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