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Denver sees shortage in trash collection truck drivers

The call for more drivers points to demand across the country as well.

DENVER — "Work from home" was the new normal for many during the pandemic. 

But in turn, that meant more trash being produced, resulting in more filled trash cans being taken out waiting for collection.

"We certainly face a heightened challenge in the waste sector because we have a perfect storm of increased garbage collection from residents because more people are home and more people are eating at home on a regular basis," said David Biderman, the Executive Director and CEO for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). 

Speaking generally on the trash collection industry, Biderman said currently there is a demand for more workers for trash collection services.

"There clearly is a shortage in some communities for both drivers and helpers to collect the residential and commercial waste that's being generated," he said. "This exacerbates a problem that we had before pandemic when we had been facing an increased driver shortage because there's a lot more competition for drivers as other driving options become more prevalent..."

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) is looking to add at least 15 more drivers for trash collection services. 

In total, the department provides trash and recycling collection services to 181,000 Denver households, said department spokesperson Nancy Kuhn via email.

Kuhn adds that residential units with more than seven units and commercial businesses contract with private trash haulers.

In June, the department had 1,738 missed pickup calls into 311 for trash collection. 

Credit: Austyn Knox
Trash filled at a dumpster in Denver.

It's a small portion considering the department does 724,000 trash collections a month. 

Therefore, the missed pickup rate is less-than-1/2-of-one-percent of total collections. 

"While a small percentage of our interactions overall, each call is important to us and we work to resolve missed pickups as soon as possible," she said. "These employees who operate our trash, recycling and compost collection trucks are among our Department’s many unsung heroes - essential workers that reported to work every day through the pandemic, making sure trash was picked up, and also managing increased volumes of trash and recycling given the stay at home guidance."

Biderman said that some employees across the industry might have had trouble returning to work in general because someone in their household may have had COVID-19. 

"In some places, people chosen other professions, other jobs. It's not just the waste industry, but we're seeing restaurants and others suffer as people decide that they want to try other professions, ... And so blue collar jobs in particular have seen challenges in attracting workers," he said. "...the solid waste industry is a terrific career for some people, there's opportunities for advancement and promotion. Driving a truck is a well-paying occupation, and unlike many other blue collar jobs, you can't outsource the work to another country. We're always going to be generating trash. We're always going to be generating recyclables. We need people who are interested in doing the work. And many companies are offering higher pay and incredible benefits."

RELATED: Full capacity, not enough staff: Local restaurants make service changes amid hiring challenges

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