Curbside pickup of recycling is set to resume in Fulton County on Feb. 16, after being shut down since the last week of December due to COVID-19-related staff furloughs.
Dianne Woske, Fulton County’s Recycling Coordinator, said originally the suspension of curbside recycling pickup was meant to last until Jan. 15, but it was extended several times by the Fulton County Board of Supervisors.
Woske said communicating the back-and-forth changes to the schedule has been challenging, and it has led some irate county residents to leave their recycling on the curb on their designated pickup days, only to later find it uncollected.
“It’s been very hard to get the word out — that’s been the hardest part — and people are not happy,” she said. “Between the papers, and we’ve had robocalls, and ads on Facebook and stuff. It’s all in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, but they have assured us [Feb. 16] is the startup date now.”
Fulton County is unusual among counties in the greater Capital Region in that the county government provides most of the recycling pickup rather than the local municipalities. Under normal circumstances, Fulton County provides recycling pickup 16 days per month with alternating pickup days twice per month for the cities of Johnstown, Gloversville and most of the counties’ towns and villages. The recycled material is then crushed at the county landfill and then delivered to the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority in Utica three to five times per week.
Woske said most recycling runs for her department include 2-3 recycling trucks, each with a driver and one or two “pickers.” She said normally about 12 to 14 county employees are involved in the county’s recycling pickup service, out of the 39 county employees who work for the county’s Department of Solid Waste.
She said the decision to go to half-staff due to the coronavirus pandemic left the county no choice but to temporarily suspend the pickup service, which covers about 85 percent of all of Fulton County residents — with the exception of the towns of Broadalbin, Oppenheim, Ephratah and Stratford, which also don’t have garbage pickup. The Village of Broadalbin does receive the recycling pickup service.
“When we went to half-staffing, obviously you can’t run the whole landfill, eight transfer stations, and do the curbside pickup program, because a lot of that work requires specialized equipment, especially in the landfill and people need special licenses, tractor trailer drivers,” she said. “So, a lot of the recycling crew had to do other jobs for the landfill and transfer station, and some things had to be cut in half, and, another thing, we were always told to stay six feet away and our crew, in a recycling truck going to Northampton, you really can’t maintain six-feet distance in the cab of a truck when you have two to three people in it. I asked the garbage truck people and they told me their crews actually stay on the outside, and they don’t actually get in the truck with each other.”
To make up for the lack of recycling pickup, Fulton County has temporarily suspended the permits needed to drop off recycling at the county’s transfer stations and at the Fulton County Landfill on Mud Road.
There have also been three drop-off locations set up for recycling: in the Town of Perth at the town highway garage on Midline Road, in the city of Johnstown at the city highway garage on Crescendoe Road and in Gloversville at a former mill property at the corner of Wilson Street and 136 W. 8th Ave.
“What’s happened is these municipalities have been nice about helping us out by setting up these locations where the local [Department of Public Works] is monitoring them,” Woske said. “Those are all open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., so people can go there and drop off their recycling for the next two weeks.”
In 2017, Fulton County initiated a “single stream” aspect to its recycling program, which meant residents were asked to put all recycled materials, including paper, plastic, glass and metal, all into one container, preferably with a recycling sticker on it, and a prohibition against putting the material into plastic bags.
Woske said she knows there will be a buildup of recycling waiting to be picked up again starting Feb. 16, so one new feature of the pickup will be an allowance for placing materials into cardboard boxes.
“We will have a prohibition against any plastic bags, except [for those containing] shredded paper, so that still stands, but I would like people to know they will be able to put things into cardboard boxes,” she said. “The boxes have to have some kind of lid or they could take the four flaps of a box and fold them together to kind of seal it, that would be fine. So people can take loose recycling, regular bottles and cans and paper, just like regular single-stream recycling inside of the cardboard boxes. That’s kind of a replacement for plastic bags.”
Officials at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling said Fulton County’s temporary suspension of its recycling service is permissible due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In this case, while other solid waste management activities remained open, Fulton County’s recycling program was impacted for a short time due to a legitimate personnel quarantining issue experienced by the county,” reads an email from DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier. “DEC has been in contact with many municipal and private solid waste facilities regarding necessary staffing reductions or social distancing requirements that may affect waste collection and processing operations and will continue to respond to these issues on a case-by case basis.”
More information can be obtained by calling Fulton County’s Recycling Info-Line at 518-736-5504.