By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS 
winters@montclairlocal.news

The good news is Montclairians take their recycling seriously.

The bad news is residents found themselves waiting more than an hour in lines to drop off recyclables at the township’s Public Works Center Wednesday, as they grappled with the ongoing suspension of curbside pickup.

Officials announced Wednesday they were adding a third day to the center’s schedule — previously just open on Wednesdays and Saturdays — after hundreds of residents lined up in their cars for drop-off. The center, at 219 North Fullerton Ave., will now be open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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A coronavirus outbreak among Department of Public Works employees caused an abrupt stop to the service last week. Employees are out either because they tested positive, or had potential exposures and are required to quarantine. 

Residents were notified last Wednesday, Feb. 24 that recycling pickups were suspended indefinitely through social media updates and robocalls to 22,582 residents. Twice-a-week garbage collection would continue. Officials say they don’t yet know when recycling pickup will resume.

On Saturday, Ben Rich, Montclair’s Environmental Commission co-chair, visited the  township’s recycling drop-off and said it was organized and not crowded. 

But Wednesday morning, resident Sarah Blustain said, the line of cars backed to Chestnut Street.

”The system they have put in place is a complete mess,” she told Montclair Local. 

David Moon took his recycling later in the day, but the line “went around the corner to Ruthie’s” so he turned around and decided to try again on Saturday.

Police were on hand in the afternoon Wednesday, directing traffic, Councilman Peter Yacobellis said.

The township reached out to four private haulers, and three said they were experiencing staff shortages as well, Township Manager Tim Stafford said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. The one company that had staffing available gave a “six-figure” quote for one month, he said. Montclair also approached other towns for a temporary shared service agreement, but most have private haulers, he said.

An idea to go to drop from twice-a-week garbage pickup to just once a week — and then free up personnel for some recycling pickup — also presented problems, Stafford said. The loads for both garbage and recycling would be too taxing on both equipment and personnel, he said. Recycling pickup normally takes place across four days, and it would have to be done in two or three 10- to 12-hour days.

“We just don’t have the personnel,” Stafford said.

Stafford said the township can’t set a date for when recycling will resume because the virus affects people differently, with some recovering quickly, while others are sick for months.

“We are hoping that isn’t the case here. We hope that these workers who have been working incessantly since last March, will return to work promptly,” he said.

Yacobellis said the suspension is a health safety issue and called on residents to “brush up on their recycling best practices.” Most importantly, recyclables should be clean to deter bacteria growth if left sitting for longer periods. He also reminded residents that only No. 1,2 and 5 plastics should go into a recycling bin, and that all cardboard boxes needed flattening. 

Blustain said there was an irony to the situation at the yard Wednesday: “The whole thing is that we’re all recycling to help the earth, and everyone is sitting idling in their cars for a half an hour in order to do so.”