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As Trash Piles Up With Many DPW Employees Out Sick, Baltimore City Officials Ask For Patience

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

As garbage piles up throughout Baltimore due to delayed trash pick-ups, Mayor Jack Young’s neighbors have been knocking on his door, wanting to know when their overflowing trash and recycling bins will be emptied.


“I'm frustrated, too, because my trash doesn’t always get picked up on time either,” the Democrat said at a news conference Wednesday. “But I understand why we are where we are.” 

The Department of Public Work has faced growing amounts of garbage pickup as residents spend more time than usual at home because of the pandemic and shrinking crews as workers get sick or must quarantine. 

It takes 230 DPW workers to complete daily curbside trash pickup.On Wednesday, only 163 reported to work, John Chalmers, DPW’s director of solid waste said. When a dozen tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week, they and those who may have been on shift with them had to stay home to quarantine. 

“People are testing positive and people are afraid to come to work,” Young said. “It’s simple as that.”

Councilman Zeke Cohen of southeast Baltimore sent DPW director Matthew Garbark a letter asking the agency improve its communication about delayed pickups with residents, after receiving more than 50 constituent complaints in four days. Many haven’t gotten trash collection in more than two weeks, the Democrat wrote.

“We are seeing an increase of insects and rats creating major public health concerns,” Cohen’s letter read. “This is completely unacceptable.”

Chalmers, DPW’s director of solid waste, says there’s “some” light at the end of the tunnel: The agency is in talks with several contractors and has two slated to start assisting with pickup in September and October. 

Chalmers said it’s been hard to find contractors with the right type of equipment required to safely navigate Baltimore’s narrow back alleys, where trash and recycling are usually found. 

In the meantime, the combination of mounting trash piles and small crews have DPW employees working long shifts. Chalmers said workers collected trash in Highlandtown from 6 a.m. Monday to 12:15 a.m. the next morning. 


Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.