As the coronavirus outbreak moves some professions online and disrupts others entirely, one job has stayed steady: garbage collection. Throughout the economic uncertainty of the last month, solid waste workers have continued their usual routes throughout the city.
Whitney Beauford-Morris drives garbage and other trucks for the city of Atlanta’s solid waste department. She spoke to WABE about keeping Atlanta clean during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the changes she’s noticed under the stay-at-home order…
“The traffic’s a lot lighter now, which makes our job a little bit easier. We’re not stopping anybody, and I don’t have to stop traffic so that they can go by. However, whereas the vehicle traffic is lighter, the pedestrian traffic has definitely kicked up. We have a lot of joggers now and a lot of dog walkers.
And of course, the weight–the amount of the trash has definitely picked up. People are at home, so there’s a lot more boxes, like Amazon boxes, because a lot of people are ordering things.”
On how she keeps herself safe during the pandemic…
“Just because of the nature of what my job is, I’ve always taken precautions to make sure that I’m not taking anything home. My work shoes stay at work. And the shoes that I wear to work never come in my house. And now instead of just my shoes not coming in the house, when I get home, I go in my garage, and my work clothes stay in my garage. They no longer come in the house. So I’ve always taken precautions because I have three young children.”
On being ‘essential’…
“I understood taking this job what it fully encompasses and what it entails. And I understand that garbage collection is essential to keeping a city clean and keeping out any issues with diseases or anything.
I never imagined something like this. But I understood that ice storms, we’re in inclement weather, when it’s storming outside, I’m out there. I’m human. I catch colds, like everyone else. But I’m still coming to work because I’m considered essential services.
And I like being out and about. I don’t want to be inside four walls. I like seeing the scenery. That’s a part of this job is being out.”
Beauford-Morris said one thing residents can do to make the jobs of sanitation workers easier during this time is ensure garbage is sealed and in a trash can. The least workers have to touch the trash, the safer.