EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The City of El Paso suspended its collection of curbside recycle pickup beginning Tuesday, and according to the Environmental Services Department, it’s most likely going to last into the new year.

Ellen Smythe, ESD managing director, said a full staff includes 82 workers, but they could operate with 62. Anything lower than that and they will suspend operation. Right now, the departments only has about 50 truck drivers.

“We can’t overwork employees,” Smythe said. “We tried going as long as we could with overtime and pulling guys off drop-off sites, but working 12 to 14 hour days leads to mistakes.”

As KTSM 9 News reported last week, this announcement came due to a shortage of drivers because of COVID-19 issues.

“People sick, people exposed and waiting for results, people on funeral leave because family or friends have passed away,” Smythe said.

The department said its taking things 30 days at a time when it will then re-evaluate the virus situation in El Paso.

“We’re hoping as the cases go down, our employees will also be returning to work,” Smythe said.

However, Smythe said she doesn’t think a temporary absence will make a major negative effect on the community and can give people time to relearn the recycling rules.

“Our contamination rate of trash in the blue bin was up 33 percent,” Smythe said. “In the last 13 years, we had the program we only saved one year of the landfill space, so a month isn’t going to change anything.”

For those who wish to drop off their reusable goods, Smythe said it can be paper or cardboard boxes, but nothing shiny or waxy-type substances, no bagged items and any metal or aluminum is accepted.

Some El Pasoans say they like to make a small difference and are already planning to drop off their recyclables at a Citizen Collection Site.

“We recycle a lot,” Northeast El Pasoan Debora Fedack said. “We come from San Antonio and we were doing it every week and just the change every other week was hard so not having it at all is very difficult.”

The gray trash bins will continue being picked up, Smythe said people can just throw their items away and it will be picked up until the recycle program is reinstated.

“We’re definitely going to take it ot the recycle center because its just not sustainable,” Fedack said.

Smythe said six candidates are currently in a driving academy, if they graduate in January, she said the program is expected to continue then.

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