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Residents staying home during coronavirus crisis are spring cleaning — too much, trash haulers say

According to the EPA, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage per day. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum
According to the EPA, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage per day. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum

ST. PAUL — A curious side-effect of coronavirus has emerged: the urge to purge.

Trash haulers are groaning under the weight of extra garbage and household junk being discarded.

Their customers — forced to stay at home under the shelter in place directive — are apparently using the time to clean out attics, basements and garages.

“It’s a way for people to stay busy. You can only go out for a walk so much,” said Julie Ketchum, spokeswoman for Waste Management, which has customers across the metro area. “But we can’t let that overwhelm our system.”

Goodwill not open; garage sales in doubt

The garbage glut has been made worse by the closure of donation centers including Goodwill Industries.

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The other big outlet for junk — garage sales — faces an uncertain fate this spring. The Lions Club Garage Sale in Woodbury, the largest such event in the state, has postponed the May event until September.

With no place to donate unwanted stuff, residents pitch it into the trash.

On some streets in the Twin Cities area this week, the fallout from coronavirus was unmistakable: overflowing garbage cans flanked by bags of old toys, boxes of outdated clothes and bins of books and tools.

Haulers ask customers not to pile up trash

Republic Services warned customers not to pile garbage outside of the trash receptacles.

An emailed statement from the national headquarters said Republic would not collect “bulk and/or yard waste,” although it didn’t say if that applies to Minnesota.

Mike Maroney, co-owner of Maroney’s Sanitation Inc. in Stillwater, said he’s noticed extra yard waste squeezed into trash receptacles.

It’s a sign, he said, of stay-at-homers eager to get outdoors and do spring chores.

Changing routines; routes flip-flop

No trash-hauling services report losing employees to illness. But coronavirus has changed daily routines.

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Willie Tennis, co-owner of Tennis Sanitation LLC in St. Paul Park, stopped having face-to-face meetings with drivers in the mornings. Everyone in his office, he said, wipes down telephones and computers “about once an hour.”

Waste Management’s Ketchum said the coronavirus has flip-flopped what’s typical for garbage routes.

Businesses are normally some of the highest garbage producers, but now they have closed and generate no waste at all. Meanwhile, garbage from residential customers has surged.

She asks her customers to be patient if they are thinking of throwing away an item that could be donated.

“You can keep it in a separate area. You can take it to Goodwill when it opens,” Ketchum said.

Signs of gratitude

There is one other side effect of the epidemic.

Maroney says his drivers are seeing more signs of gratitude.

Someone put a thank-you note on one of his garbage bins. Another customer scrawled a message in chalk on a driveway: the word “Hope” and an American flag.

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He said his customers are now home all day and wave to his drivers from their yards and windows.

“We feel more appreciated,” he said.

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