COVID-19 is changing the world and as the world learns to interact and communicate differently, CWS’s commitment to help create green, sustainable communities through recycling will continuously improve.
By David Duong
As Northern California’s premiere recycling company, California Waste Solutions (CWS) provides commercial and residential recycling services in San Jose and Oakland, two of the largest and most progressive cities in the state. We serve nearly 350,000 households each week and operate three material recovery facilities between both cities.
First Line of Defense
The impacts of COVID-19 were immediately felt within our operations as our employees were thrusted into the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight. Our customer service team saw a 53 percent surge in call volume and a 30 percent increase in e-mails. Our maintenance teams spent more time servicing trucks and recycling equipment as drivers and facility staff sorted increasing and heavier loads that were more contaminated with garbage and organic waste.
Knowing the extremely challenging conditions facing our team—drivers, sorters, maintenance workers, customer service representatives, administrators and managers—CWS took immediate steps to keep them safe while ensuring that our essential daily recycling services remained excellent and continuous.
We increased our employees’ access to personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and hand and surface sanitizers. We also encouraged our drivers to increase their awareness about children being at-play and pedestrians outside homes during traditional school and workdays.
Along with continual collection truck and workspace sanitation throughout the day, we installed Plexiglas workspace dividers at our recycling facilities and slowed the speed of our processing equipment to improve sorting and reduce employee exertion. Some recyclable items are also sanitized to protect our employees as we remain uncertain of how long the virus lives on surfaces. Yet, all of these actions served as our first line of defense.
A Commitment to Forward-Thinking Practices
As residents abided by County and State Shelter-in-Place directives, our collection operations immediately experienced a 20 percent increase in the tons caused by the influx of materials placed inside our recycling containers. As schools moved online and adults worked from home, our recycling carts were filled with more recyclables, and much more non-recyclable garbage and food waste. That has sustained since mid-March. Sadly, the increased contamination did not come as a surprise.
Like California Waste Solutions, recycling haulers around the world continue to tirelessly work to meet the stringent regulations of the National China Sword policy, and that work has intensified because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why, continuing to diversify into more global recycling markets remains an essential part of our business.
We must find and create viable and sustainable “homes” for our recyclable materials even in an unpredictable market; and, I firmly believe that our ongoing commitment to forward-thinking practices sufficiently prepared us to operate safely, securely and effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also know that combatting contamination requires ongoing education, and we continually work with our local municipalities to support outreach efforts throughout the pandemic—through on-the-ground action from our public education teams, drivers and municipal colleagues to residents. We share essential recycling-right tips through our websites, social media platforms, local radio stations, customer newsletters and business advertisements.
Make no mistake, good work is not easy but the challenge presented by the Coronavirus motivates California Waste Solutions to rise to new challenges and apply new solutions: reducing service was not a desirable or practical option.
We are an environmental enterprise and we pride ourselves on the commitment to safe, effective, efficient, resilient and flexible operations that ensures good health for our employees and excellent service for our customers. Now more than ever, our focus is on new, innovative technology that achieves our commitments and goals.
Our North Gateway Development in Oakland will bring a groundbreaking, state-of-the-art recycling facility to Northern California. As we enter the final phases of North Gateway project approval, our plans for advanced recycling equipment such as no-wrap screens, optical sorters and robots will provide an additional line of defense to protect our employees and allow for improved material sorting, which will be even more important post-COVID-19.
Overall, adapting to a new reality because of the coronavirus means working through a larger organizational lens of compassion. With our recycling operations literally starting at the curb of our communities, and because most of our employees reside in the communities we serve, we witness the strain on our communities from COVID-19 firsthand. That is why, CWS’ compassion must be even greater than it was before the pandemic.
As a locally-grown business, we value the diverse socio-economic makeup of the communities we serve. Our commitment to provide local solutions is always the top priority and extending our supportive hand during this unprecedented challenge was of the upmost importance. It is our responsibility to step up.
We donated 20,000 face masks in Oakland and San Jose at the height of the pandemic when personal protective equipment was extremely scarce. Partnering with our local government officials and community stakeholders, we identified organizations and essential workers on the frontlines in our community in need of critical personal protective equipment.
CWS partnered with our county food banks and local senior centers as they provided more than 500 seniors, children and families with vegetables, fruit, beans, rice, tissue and other essential food items. Our contribution ensured that those most in need had access to protein such as fish, eggs and poultry—items that are critical for overall health and development.
We have continued our work with local officials in Oakland, cleaning illegal dumping hotspots that drastically increased during COVID-19. In San Jose, our free, unlimited junk pickup service has increased in labor hours and in volume. In fact, our customer service representatives and junk pick up team collected nearly 30,000 large junk items from more than 6,500 service stops in one month alone. There was a 52 percent increase in those items as compared to the second quarter of last year.
COVID-19 is changing the world and as the world learns to interact and communicate differently, CWS’s commitment to help create green, sustainable communities through recycling will continuously improve. We will continue to invest in opportunities that will move California Waste Solutions and the communities we serve forward. | WA
David Duong is President and CEO of California Waste Solutions. A family-owned company, the Duong family escaped the Vietnam War and settled in San Francisco. The 16-member Duong family squeezed into two studio apartments. Adapting skills learned from their father who owned the largest paper mill in South Vietnam, the family collected cardboard after school until midnight for several years and were able to purchase their first recycling warehouse in Oakland. Today, CWS is one of the largest recycling companies in Northern California. For more information, visit www.calwaste.com.