Early signs of decrease in garbage, despite increase in COVID-19 protective measures
More people are using masks, gloves and wipes, but pandemic has closed businesses and people are at home more
Masks, latex gloves and antibacterial wipes have become a routine part of many New Brunswickers' lives since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last month, but the landfills for the three largest regions haven't seen a significant increase in volume from hospitals or homes.
In fact, Fredericton Region Solid Waste has seen less garbage overall, according to Brad Janes, manager of public relations.
That's because about two-thirds of the volume the landfill receives on a regular basis comes from businesses, he said.
"So with numerous businesses either closed indefinitely or working with minimal staff, the collection that usually comes out to us is much less."
New Brunswick has been under a state of emergency since March 19. There are 114 cases of COVID-19 across the province, as of Sunday afternoon.
Hospital waste buried
Janes said it's still early days, but he's "not aware of any noticeable surge" of waste coming from the hospitals.
The hospital waste goes to a dedicated part of the landfill on Alison Boulevard, where it's immediately buried, he said.
The Horizon Health Network is closely following the Public Health Agency of Canada's interim guidelines for acute health-care settings for COVID-19 infection prevention and control waste management, said Jeff Carter, corporate director for capital assets and infrastructure services.
No special precautions are recommended.
"PHAC recommends the continuation of routine practices for the handling and disposal of medical waste in a hospital setting; however, Horizon employs stringent infection prevention and control guidelines and has delivered updated training for [environmental services] staff," Carter said in an emailed statement.
All waste is bagged and disposed of daily into compactors, or other waste receptacles, in accordance with PHAC guidelines, he added.
Vitalité Health Network did not respond to a request for comment.
'Good time to change habits'
Household COVID-19-related waste represents only a small portion of the Fredericton landfill's waste stream, said Janes.
"It might seem a lot to see a garbage bag full of items go out [to the curb], but when it's put up against what goes into our landfill, it's very, very minimalistic … far less than one per cent."
Janes said it will be interesting to see what the coming months will bring.
"We hear a lot of people saying that they're trying to pull back on certain things, whether it's plastics or materials," he said.
Now that it's more challenging to go grocery shopping, it might be a good time to change habits, he suggested. "It's an opportunity, I guess, to really put that to use."
The Fundy Regional Service Commission, which serves the greater Saint John area, has seen a slight upturn in residential waste and a bit of a downturn on the commercial side, said Brenda MacCallum, public relations and program development officer.
Not surprising with so many people working from home and no longer eating out, she said. "We're [home] all the time, right?"
Looking ahead, garbage production tends to follow the economy, said MacCallum. If the economy is doing well, people produce more waste, and if there's a dip in the economy, people produce less waste.
Tens of thousands of New Brunswickers have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak so far, the provincial government has said, and many businesses may never recover.
So it's difficult to predict, said MacCallum.
"If it continues for a long time, most likely there will be a downturn in the amount of waste being produced."
Back to plastic bags
MacCallum doesn't think the fact some grocery stores and other retailers are discouraging the use of, or have stopped accepting reusable bags to protect staff and prevent the spread of the virus will have much of an impact.
"This is a different time so, you know, do what you need to do, right?
"We're looking at this as, it's a short period of time that we have to do this."
If people end up having to use plastic bags, MacCallum recommends saving them to put garbage in and reminds area residents the commission stopped accepting plastic bags for recyling on March 1.
It's important citizens dispose of any COVID-19-related waste safely, said Gena Alderson, waste diversion co-ordinator for Southeast Eco 360, which serves the greater Moncton area.
Photos circulating on social media of personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as latex gloves, tossed aside in grocery store parking lots after people have donned them, is not proper disposal, said New Brunswick's chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell.
"I would encourage the public to dispose of them properly, in garbage cans," she said.
Some other jurisdictions where PPE litter has become a big problem, such as Vancouver, are considering hefty fines.
People who wear gloves should remove them from the inside out and disposable masks should be taken off from the back first, according to experts.
Gloves, masks, antibacterial wipes — "anything that you're using that could potentially be contaminated" — should then be discarded in clear garbage bags and be well-secured before being placed at the curb for pick-up to protect others from coming into contact with them, Alderson advised.
"What the industry calls flushable" or biodegradable wipes are "not necessarily flushable in all sewage systems or municipal wastewater systems," she said. They can cause clogs in piping.
We are urging residents to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThinkBeforeTheyFlush?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ThinkBeforeTheyFlush</a>. Over the past week, crews have had to deal with three preventable sewer backups caused by wipes clogging the system.<br>We have a shared responsibility to protect the operation of our wastewater system & reduce risk in our community. <a href="https://t.co/Gvjijj0wMW">pic.twitter.com/Gvjijj0wMW</a>—@cityofsaintjohn
"So please don't flush your wipes," said Alderson. "I mean, you don't want to cause a bigger issue than we already have."
Although all three commissions have suspended their recycling and composting operations and are sending all material to the landfill, residents are encouraged to continue to separate their waste at the curb because the municipalities get charged lower rates for recycling and compost.
Jump in landfill visits
The Southeast Eco 360 landfill in Berry Mills remains open with reduced hours, but for emergencies and essential services only, stressed Alderson.
It's been getting up to 200 visitors per day over the last couple of weeks, up from an average of about 50 to 75, she said.
"I think it's because people are home and they're bored and they're clearing things out and they want to get rid of their stuff, but that's creating high traffic at the landfill and it can put our staff and even other people in potential danger."
People who have damaged property from a flood or fire or power outage or are moving and must dispose of certain materials are allowed to visit, Alderson said.
"If you're just cleaning out your shed or your garage or your basement, we'd ask please try to hold onto that until, you know, this whole period is over."
The Fundy Regional Service Commission's Crane Mountain landfill continues to operate with modified hours and procedures.
The Fredericton landfill is closed to residential customers.