As the coronavirus pandemic spreads through Maine, central Maine municipalities have taken many measures to reduce the number of people coming into contact with each other.
While many forms of municipal business can be done online, what about things that can’t? For example, there is no way to virtually dispose of trash.
So, towns and cities are doing the best they can to avoid one public health issue as they deal with another by implementing measures to keep people away from one another.
At Augusta’s Hatch Hill landfill, which takes rubbish and other materials from city residents as well as from several surrounding towns, the city is hoping to entice people to make fewer trips with more garbage by instituting a flat fee for residents using the facility. The cost is $10 per trip per car and $15 per trip for pickup trucks or cars with trailers — whether people bring one bag or a full vehicle load.
Jon Chalmers, solid waste director for the city of Augusta, said the idea is to encourage residents to hold onto their rubbish longer until they have multiple bags, thus reducing the amount of contact between the public and employees who work at Hatch Hill’s scale house. The scale house workers usually have to interact with anyone coming into the facility, to find out what and how much materials they’re bringing in and to collect payment.
About 150 people a day come to use the facility.
Large and commercial loads will still be weighed on the scales and charged by the pound, as has been the practice in the past.
Hatch Hill is also taking credit or debit cards only — no cash — to also limit contact between the public and employees. It also has altered its operating days, and is only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Single-sort recycling bins formerly at Hatch Hill and the Public Works Department are closed to the public, also in response to concerns use of them could increase exposure of employees and the public to the virus. Residents may still take scrap iron and wood debris to Hatch Hill to be recycled, Chalmers said.
Chalmers said the changes will likely be in effect until further notice, depending on developments with the spread of the coronavirus. He said taking precautions to limit contact, especially at the facility’s scale house, will help allow the facility to continue to be able to function.
“It’s an essential service, for businesses, for residents, it’d be a public health concern if we weren’t open, a lot of trash would build up in residences, and commercial accounts,” Chalmers said.
There have been no changes to Augusta’s curbside residential rubbish collection due to coronavirus.
Monmouth resident Ginger Jordan-Hillier said keeping municipal landfills and transfer stations open, at least for reduced hours, during a crisis is a public health issue.
She said if transfer stations or landfills close due to an emergency or disaster, people may allow trash to build up at their homes. Jordan-Hillier gave examples of diapers, paper towels and cleaning materials that may be contaminated from cleaning for the virus, or waste that might attract rats and even contribute to the spread of disease. And, she said, some people may dump their trash on the side of the road.
“I think it’s a basic sanitation issue,” Jordan-Hillier said. “If you’ve got waste piling up you can get horrible diseases, have rats running around, diapers piling up, we don’t want to go there.”
She said she understands that such facilities may reduce their hours, and is fine with that, as long as they don’t close. She emphasized that keeping waste facilities open should be part of emergency planning.
Readfield Town Manager Eric Dyer said the town’s transfer station is remaining open with full staff, but the amount of vehicles permitted in the station’s stalls has been reduced to three. The station has five stalls, he said, but as many as seven vehicles have been known to gather at the station on busy days.
By using three stalls, Dyer said, cars will have one stall between them, giving more than 10 feet of space, appropriate for social distancing.
He also said some items should not be recycled during the outbreak.
‘We do not want tissues, paper towels, latex gloves; none of that belongs in the recycling,” Dyer said. “That should all go into household waste. Some towns have been stopping recycling programs because of that stuff.”
Dyer said the town is only collecting cash from the transfer station once a day and it is being left untouched for a couple days after collection before being deposited into a bank.
Dresden Administrative Assistant Michael Henderson said the town’s trash and recycling center is still open, but staff has been reduced from three employees to two. He said the town does not want people hoarding their trash during the outbreak.
“We’re asking that (town employees) keep their distance from the public while they’re there,” he said. “We’re asking the public not to go themselves if they’re showing any symptoms.”
West Gardiner’s transfer station remains open, but the Swap Shop and recycling building are both closed. Meanwhile, Richmond has closed its transfer station through April 8, while Pittston has closed its recycling center until further notice.
Kennebec Journal reporter Jessica Lowell contributed to this report.