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Baltimore Recycling To Be Suspended Through Nov. 1, As DPW Worker Shortage Drags On

John Lee/WYPR

  Baltimore’s Department of Public Works will suspend pickup recycling services through Nov. 1, acting director Matthew Barbark announced at a Thursday afternoon news conference. The agency has reached a breaking point with its struggles to fulfill trash pickup services due to shortages of workers tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

All recycling collection crews will be diverted to trash collection on a full-time basis beginning Aug. 31. The city will create recycling drop-off centers in each of its 14 city council districts for residents; they will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. 

Between employees testing positive for COVID-19 or having to quarantine if a team member became ill and the oppressive summer heat, the backlog of missed routes became so significant that catching up took days or sometimes more than a week, Garbark said. 

“Rounds started getting longer and we began seeing more and more employees go out on medical leave or injury due to heat-related illness,” he said. “Our crews were quite simply exhausted.”

Garbark said that Donald Savoy, a solid-waste worker, died on the job earlier this week. He said the cause of the 12-year DPW veteran’s death is not yet determined. 

DPW needs a minimum of 210 workers and ideally 230 workers a day, Garbark said. Over the past few weeks, the agency has averaged 150 to 160 employees per day. On some days, more than 80 workers have called out. 

If one member of a pickup crew tests positive for COVID, the rest of their team must quarantine, too. The pandemic has also led to higher trash tonnage and increased demand for pickups as Baltimoreans spend more time than usual at home.

DPW has already redirected some recycling crews to trash collection, Garbark said. 


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.
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