COVID causes trash outpouring across Southwest Oklahoma



  • Coronavirus causing resident to throw away more than usual amount of trash.
    Coronavirus causing resident to throw away more than usual amount of trash.

There’s nothing good to say or report about the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the state or the nation.

But in the southwestern part of the Sooner State there appears to be a new phenomenon afflicting hundreds, perhaps thousands of Oklahomans at the same time.

It’s not another deadly disease, although some may humorously label it one.

Let’s just call it The Great Dumpster Dive – or perhaps The Super Bowl of Trash.

Whatever moniker you put on this phenomenon, it’s certainly more than the normal, annual Spring Cleaning ritual we all go through this time of year.

Sanitation departments across southwestern Oklahoma are reporting significant and escalating amounts of trash at the curbs each week as landfills also contend with the major increase in the number of people hauling in their own refuse.

“People seem to be looking for a reason to get out of the house during all this virus stuff,” said Altus Sanitation Supervisor Kenny Combs. “I haven’t looked at the exact numbers, but they’re up pretty good.”

Combs said Altus’ sanitation service has seen a “10 percent increase or more” in the amount of garbage people are leaving curbside each week. The amount of garbage being brought to the city’s dump by individuals is up at least 20 percent, he added.

“I guess it’s giving people a good reason to get out of the house during all of this,” he said of the virus pandemic that has homebound thousands of Oklahomans statewide.

Combs said an aberration to the increases his company is seeing is from Altus Air Force Base. “It has slowed down remarkably,” he said, adding that he could not explain the phenomenon.

Mike Gaver, municipal marketing manager for Waste Connections, which operates in 72 communities across North Texas and Southwest Oklahoma – including residential trash service on Fort Sill and a transfer station in Hobart, said his firm has definitely seen more garbage lately.

“Trash is super heavy everywhere, Gaver said. “We’re definitely seeing a significant increase in individual calls for special pickups because of all the gardening and, apparently, because people are using their forced time at home to do a lot of home renovations.”

Gaver said his firm “had to stop” picking up garbage left out of containers because of the danger to the sanitation crews. He said picking up items directly by hand could dramatically increase the danger of company crews catching COVID-19, even if they are wearing gloves and masks.

Combs noted his department also is taking extra precautions to prevent sanitation crews from picking up the virus during their work. He said truck crews and drivers are being assigned to drive the same vehicle every day instead of letting drivers and crew choose their trucks.

Additionally, the vehicles are undergoing extra sanitation and cleaning regimes at the end of each day.

The company also is providing masks and gloves to its crews.

“Safety has always been our first priority, but we’ve gone beyond that. Our risk is really to the frontline guys,” Combs said, “and if sanitation closes down, we’ve got a lot more problems than just the coronavirus.”

When Southwest Ledger contacted the Lawton landfill, staff was told that landfill officials are prohibited from speaking to the media.

From March 23 to May 15, 2019, Lawton dump trucks made 7,419 trips to the dump leaving 30,154.22 tons of garbage to bury. City records show that during the same time this year, 33,231.65 tons of trash was left from 9,419 trips.

Between March 23 and May 15, 2019, Lawtonians made 2,018 trips to the dump, dropping off 867 tons of refuse. In the same timeframe in 2020, the landfill received 2,829 trips, generating 1,149 tons of trash.