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Baltimore shifts recycling pickup to every other week amid DPW staff shortages

Full recycling bins. On Wednesday, Baltimore City officials announced that recycling services would shift to every other week amid worker shortages.
Dino Borelli/Flickr
Full recycling bins. On Wednesday, Baltimore City officials announced that recycling services would shift to every other week amid worker shortages.

Baltimore will shift recycling services to every other week as the omicron surge causes major worker shortages among pickup crews, City Public Works Director Jason Mitchell said Wednesday.

Neighborhoods north of North Avenue will have their recycling collected next week. Neighborhoods south of North Avenue will have recycling the week of Jan 24. Trash services will not be affected.

He said the surge in COVID-19 cases has slammed his workforce: more than half of pickup crew workers called out on Dec. 30. Pre-pandemic, around 10% of workers called out each day.

“We just didn't have enough individuals coming to work to be able to fill all of our recycling routes,” Mitchell said. “It’s just been difficult. We've been wanting to prioritize trash.”

He said the close contact between pickup crews, coupled with omicron’s high transmissibility, has put the largest strain on staffing, though other factors, such as snow, have contributed as well. The Bureau of Solid Waste must send 22 crews to snow detail during inclement weather.

This week, DPW will service neighborhoods that missed recycling services due to extreme shortages.

Mitchell does not have an end date for reduced service but said it will not be permanent, saying that he and other city executives will monitor local and national omicron trends.

There is no limit on how much recycling residents can put out for their bi-weekly collections. Residents can also utilize DPW’s drop off recycling locations.

“Our focus is providing that, reliable, consistent delivery of service to the residents and by making it every other week, it doesn't put as much constraint on our very limited resources,” Mitchell said.

He said the agency’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is about 68%.

At a hearing Wednesday, city safety czar Sebastiana Gianci said the entire city workforce’s vaccination rate is about 75%, which is reflective of the city’s overall rate. A $1,000 incentive to become fully vaccinated has not “moved the needle tremendously, but they are in place for up to January 14,” she said.

Mayor Brandon Scott mandated that city employees get fully vaccinated, though they are allowed to opt out if they submit to weekly testing.

City Administrator Chris Shorter said Baltimore will create a specific vaccination site and testing site specifically for DPW workers.

“We did hear directly from the leadership team at the agency that this would be helpful for them and for their workforce,” he 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.