Here’s to the helpers

Amid crisis, don’t forget the critical job done by recycling and waste industry workers

If you spend any amount of time on social media these days, you’re likely familiar with the popular Fred Rogers meme that gets circulated during times of crisis in which he remembers his mother telling him to “look for the helpers.”

Much like Mister Rogers’ mother’s intent at the time, the meme is intended to soothe fears and redirect our thinking toward positivity during times of upheaval and despair. Sometimes, it may even encourage people to become “helpers” themselves.

As the country moves into uncharted territory thanks to Covid-19 quarantines, school closings and limited access to modern conveniences, we are noticing once again as “the helpers” come to the forefront of our daily lives.

In this global pandemic we see our front-line healthcare workers, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts as the everyday heroes in the effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus and effectively treat those who have already contracted the disease. It’s very similar to when a natural disaster strikes — we see police officers, firefighters, first responders and organizations such as the Red Cross as the most obvious helpers to restore normalcy to affected areas.

Rarely, if ever, do we think to look at the essential health and safety services provided by the front-line workers in the waste and recycling industry who are tasked with picking up and safely disposing of society’s least wanted items.

These men and women do not have the option to work from home, and they are constantly interacting with a host of challenges and hazards that many of us never consider. They do so with pride, and they do so without requesting attention or thanks.

Everyone in the industry, from drivers and helpers to landfill operators and recycling sorters, plays an integral role in keeping society healthy and safe. Without their efforts, and the infrastructure provided by their employers, pandemic response would be an exercise in futility.

As private citizens, we can also play a vital role to help their efforts and improve their safety — tie our trash bags and limit the amount of loose trash in our bins, keep our recycling free of non-recyclable materials and hazards such as batteries, and be sure to watch out for workers when they are out of their trucks servicing our homes and businesses.

So as you look for the helpers during this time of crisis to soothe your fears and find positivity in the chaos around you, don’t overlook the workers in the waste and recycling industry who show up every day regardless of the circumstances to provide key health and safety services and allow virtually every other service to exist.

Jeff Weld is director of community engagement for Casella Waste Systems Inc.

Categories: Opinion