Investigators: City report shows why recycling services stopped in Memphis - chronic absenteeism and more trash

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 10:24 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The City of Memphis announced Thursday that recycling services will resume April 6.

A report prepared by the City of Memphis administration shows a clearer picture of why the service stopped in the first place.

In December, Mayor Jim Strickland’s Office said 25% of Solid Waste employees were sick from or exposed to COVID-19 and so, recycling service had to stop.

A month later, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators tried to learn exactly how many Solid Waste employees were absent because of COVID-19, and if they were getting sick on the job.

A City report obtained exclusively by the WMC Action News 5 Investigators shows chronic absences within the department coupled with higher trash volume left the City no choice but to throw away recyclables with the trash.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly half of the Solid Waste workforce has been absent – 227 employees total - because they tested positive for COVID-19, were exposed to the virus, or had to stay home with children because schools were closed.

The report states COVID-19 wasn’t only to blame. Sick leave and vacation time were also factors.

The decision to mix recycling and garbage was made when absences continued to rise as did the number of residents complaining their trash wasn’t being picked up at all: missed service calls skyrocketed by 154% in the last six months of the year.

When crew chiefs in particular were absent, it affected an entire route.

Crew chiefs drive garbage trucks, and are required to hold Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL).

The report states that from July to December 2020, an average of 74 crew chiefs showed up for work but 96 are needed to complete garbage and recycling pick up without overtime.

Absences overall went up by 22.9% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Trash volume also increased by about 30%, according to the report.

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