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Archived - Rain, sleet or global pandemic, Waste Collection Operator Russel Potvin keeps on trucking

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April 2, 2020
Feature Stories

With society on hold, a lot of Ottawa residents are finding themselves stuck at home. Russel Potvin is not one of them. His work gets him up and out of the house before dawn. As a waste collection operator, Russel’s role is essential to keeping our city functioning during this pandemic. He took a few minutes before his shift to share what it’s like to be on the job in Ottawa during the time of COVID-19.

A man standing in front of a house, wearing a bright yellow sweater and safety vest.
Front-line workers like Russel Potvin continue to leave the house each day and go to work, keeping the city afloat so the public can stay home.

What is it like to be a waste collection operator in Ottawa these days?

It’s eerie! Seeing the city totally deserted is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I have to say though, it’s kind of amazing to work in an industry that literally never stops. Whether it’s a giant snowstorm, a heatwave, or even a global pandemic, we work through all of it.

Are you encountering people?

Absolutely. Everyone’s at home, out in their yards and on their porches, so we’re seeing more people throughout the day than we usually do. Most people are keeping their distance, and for our safety and theirs, it’s important that they do.

It great though – people are saying thank you from afar, letting us know they appreciate the work we’re doing. We also really love seeing the posters that kids are making and hanging up on their windows.

How are you keeping yourself safe on the job? Any special protocols in place?

At the yard before we head out in the morning, we do things totally differently. The other day we had a meeting and even though it was still dark out we had our meeting outside so we could all keep our distance.

When we’re out on our routes we wear gloves and safety glasses like we normally do, but these days we also have plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and disposable gloves in the truck with us in case we need them.

A man standing in front of a garbage truck, wearing a bright yellow sweater and safety vest.
As essential workers, waste collection operator Russel Potvin and his colleagues are experiencing a different world. The roads are empty, and houses are full.

What do you do when you get home to keep your household safe?

When I get home, I leave my boots outside, wash my hands and get in the shower. I have a wife and 14-year-old stepson at home and the last thing I want is to get them sick.

What should people do to keep you and your colleagues safe?

We really appreciate it when people make sure their waste is completely secured. Imagine if we open the green bin of someone who’s sick and there are tissues flying around?

It might seem like a small thing, but going that extra mile to keep bins clean and make sure tissues and napkins are contained makes all the difference to us.

And of course, the most important thing is for everyone to respect those physical distancing rules.

With people at home more, is everyone putting out more garbage than usual?

For sure. I realize people are tempted to use this time to get some spring cleaning done, but we would really like folks to avoid putting out massive amounts of waste at the curb. This time of year there’s a lot of leaf and yard waste to deal with as well, so getting through our routes efficiently lets us all get home and maximize our own physical distancing.

Are there any silver linings to the situation?

Again, it’s the small things, I think. Coffee is our fuel, and as you can imagine, our truck can’t go through the Tim Horton’s drive-thru! So when we’re on a break we walk through the drive-thru since that’s the only option.

There might be a line-up of cars but usually people are so nice about it, they wave us through to go ahead of them. People really seem to appreciate the work we’re doing. It’s a funny thing, but during this pandemic, I think me and the rest of the guys are feeling that community connection more than ever.

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