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Residents can protect garbage collectors during pandemic

A North Country Disposal truck and worker is pictured. Keeping workers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak is a top priority, company officials say. (Mining Journal photo)

MARQUETTE — While bars, restaurants, salons and other businesses have closed their doors in compliance with the governor’s orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, other businesses and industries considered essential are changing their operations to best continue to serve the public while reducing risk of exposure.

There are many workers on the front lines of the pandemic — health care professionals, grocery store workers, truckers and garbage collectors.

Residents can take a few extra steps before placing their garbage curbside during the crisis to reduce the risk of exposure for garbage collectors, vice president of sales at North Country Disposal & Septic Ken Ohman said.

“Right now what we’re doing simply we’re getting out in front of it. We’re asking the customer, which would be the resident, to put their items and tie it in a 13-gallon household waste bag,” Ohman said. “We don’t want to see the Walmart bags out there, the Meijer bags, the Menards bags, things of that nature. It needs to be fully contained within an approved household waste bag.”

North Country Disposal services 11 municipalities within Marquette County including Marquette Township, part of Marquette city, Negaunee Township, Champion Township, Humboldt and more.

The disposal company would formerly collect various types of bags curbside and make sure streets are cleaned, but during the pandemic this puts collectors at risk.

“We need the residents to do their part to make sure that we’re not spreading the virus throughout the community and it’s getting disposed of properly,” Ohman said.

It would also be helpful if residents placed their bags in trash cans curbside so various animals and critters can’t tear up bags and spread waste that would typically be picked up by collectors, he added.

In the past week, an increase in the weight of waste being collected has also been noticed by the disposal company, which makes the proper disposal of garbage even more important to protect collectors, Ohman said.

“The weights are going up pretty tremendously from the simple fact that businesses aren’t working, people are at home, diapers are being changed all day at home in comparison to being done at a daycare where those people are utilizing dumpsters, so we’re starting to see the weights go up from the fact that everyone is quarantined, everybody is home, everybody is producing more garbage now at their house,” he said.

As a form of “hazard pay,” North Country Disposal has given each of its collectors a $5 raise during the pandemic.

“We’re on the front lines seeing it, dealing with it each and every day unfortunately, so we have given our guys a significant raise through this time and also next week we’re going to be giving out bonus checks just to show our appreciation to our guys and our workers,” Ohman said.

Other measures have been taken to protect workers such as hand sanitizer in the collection trucks and reinforcing previous protection measures like wearing gloves to ensure workers are protecting themselves, he said.

“We have tightened things up. We’re very stern and stubborn and top notch in regards to our (personal protective equipment) and health and safety,” Ohman said. “We’re just ensuring that the guys are dialing it in each time.”

As the pandemic progresses and case numbers rise in our county, North Country Disposal will continue to abide by the recommendations of the CDC and make changes in accordance so that the Marquette community can continue to move forward, he said.

“We’re in it for the long haul. We’ve been in business for 19 years and we’re not going anywhere. We want to see this through just as bad as everybody else does and we just want the community to do their part to make sure they’re getting their garbage out to the curb in proper form and we’ll take care of the rest,” Ohman said. “We have everyone’s back. We service 11 major municipalities. We’re not just your garbage guy, we’re your neighbor as well.”

Trinity Carey can be reached at tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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