An NYC sanitation worker who’s been on the job for 25 years explains the changes he’s seen in the city throughout the pandemic, from lots of cardboard boxes to the loss of human interaction

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  • Sanitation workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the US, and they have been deemed essential workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Around 10,000 people work for the New York Department of Sanitation. Of them, 628 have tested positive for COVID-19, and seven have died, the New York Department of Sanitation told Business Insider on May 27.
  • The Department of Sanitation has taken steps to protect workers, like beginning day shifts one hour earlier at 5 a.m., when there are fewer people on the street, and supplying workers with masks.
  • Sanitation workers say there are other differences too, like more trash to pick up in residential areas, and worrying that someone who is infected with the coronavirus has thrown out something that’s contaminated.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.


The New York City Department of Sanitation collects around 12,000 tons of trash and recycling each day.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


There are about 10,000 people working for the New York Department of Sanitation. Workers run 1,200 curbside collection trucks every day.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


Angel Santiago, 60, is an NYC sanitation worker who retired on May 15. His age puts him in an at-risk group during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Santiago also has at-risk family members to worry about. “I have an elderly father … and my wife has breathing issues,” he told Business Insider. “So I’m afraid that if I get infected, I’ll infect them.”

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Santiago told Business Insider that doing his job during the pandemic has been a scary experience. “Let’s say somebody in one of the buildings happens to have the virus and they throw out something they shouldn’t be throwing out and we don’t know about it,” he said.

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Santiago told Business Insider that despite the risks, he never considered not going into work.

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“With the pandemic going on, I feel like it’s a duty to come and help out the rest of the city,” Santiago told Business Insider. “We’re first responders, we’re essential workers, and we have to be out here to help out everybody else.”

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The New York City Department of Sanitation has taken steps to protect workers amid the pandemic. One change they have made is beginning day shifts at 5 a.m., one hour earlier, to limit interactions with the public.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


Trucks and garages are also being cleaned daily, and workers are required to wear masks and gloves.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


Sanitation workers like Santiago walk eight to 10 miles a day while picking up trash.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


Since the beginning of the pandemic, the New York City Department of Sanitation has seen an increase in recycling pick-up. Between March 16 and May 10, 2020, the department collected 7% more recycling than it did in the same time frame in 2019.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


In residential areas, this is likely because people at home are cleaning out basements, closets, and garages, the New York Department of Sanitation told Business Insider.

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Source: New York City Department of Sanitation


Santiago noted that the change is also likely because people are getting more deliveries during the pandemic. “There’s a lot more cardboard,” he told Business Insider. “You got your Amazon, your FreshDirect, and all that stuff.”

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There’s also been a change to the social elements of the job. Mike Squiciari is an NYC sanitation worker who told Business Insider earlier this year that he’d been on the job for 33 years. A fun part of the job, he said, is building relationships with the residents, supers, and store owners who live along his routes.

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Source: Business Insider


Since the coronavirus outbreak, much of that camaraderie has disappeared. Kieth Mellis, executive officer and bureau of public affairs, told Business Insider that there are no more “hellos, smiles, and high-fives” from neighbours.

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Santiago, who spent 25 years on the job before retiring in May, said it has always been an honour to work for New York City.

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“You get to work outside, you get to help the city out, you get a good pension, you get good people around you,” Santiago said.

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