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APWA Technical Committees and the Small Cities/Rural Communities Committee recently took time to reflect on positives and challenges presented to public works due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing became clear as the committees discussed their experiences: public works rose to new levels to protect and provide for their communities. 

Asset Management 

Positives: Public works has demonstrated excellent flexibility in adapting methods, primarily by embracing various technologies, to continue to provide value.

Emergency Management 

Positives: The elevating of public works employees to essential workers. Public works knew it was essential; now the public knows. Another positive is now knowing some staff can work effectively remotely. 
Challenges: Getting PPE, canceling or having to recreate face to face training, and communicating with other departments. Finally, preparing for the unknown.

Engineering & Technology 

Positives: Less travel for meetings and online engagement of residents in community meetings. 
Challenge: Working to make public works professionals a top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Facilities & Grounds

Positives: The ability to complete normally deferred projects and more complex projects. Facilities closing to staff and the public allowing unscheduled maintenance. 
Challenges: Installing protective barriers or plexiglass to protect visitors and staff. 
Both: Cleaning facilities was both a positive and a challenge. New cleaning protocols were challenging to implement, but empty facilities made thorough cleaning much easier. 


Positives: The creation of new shifts to keep staff safe and maintain levels of service. Day/night shifts allowed technicians to concentrate on their work with fewer distractions. 
Challenges: While night shifts proved to be a positive, it was a challenge to staff the night shift. Management needed strong communication and creativity to fill temporary night shift positions. 

Leadership & Management 

Positives: Using networks to find solutions, more people involved in making decisions, and training employees that would not have taken place due to increased online training options. Other positives include saving time due to no travel, increased usage of field resources, and automatic documentation of meetings.
Challenges: Communicating with field staff and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was a challenge and slowed the progress of tasks. Lack of face-to-face communication is a challenge for morale and working relationships. Technology is also a challenge because not all staff was trained on the same technology. 

Small Cities/Rural Communities

Positive: The creativity and flexibility of staff to get work done. Staff showed the ability to be cross-trained and leadership was visible at all levels. 
Challenges: Learning new computer software and platforms, creating and following new cleaning protocols, and being forced to go nearly all paperless. 

Solid Waste Management 

Positives: Public works professionals have been agile and recognized as essential as they protect public health and the environment while handling community solid waste materials.
Challenges: Various stay-at-home orders and business closures have substantially increased residential trash, recycling, and bulk materials volumes. At the same time, solid waste workers faced challenges of absenteeism due to illness, school closure, or caring for ill family members.


Positives: Proved that people can work remotely. Made a positive impact on traffic. Paperless project approval. Time savings. More people were able to attend APWA virtual monthly chapter meetings than in person.


Positives: Emergence of electronic submittals, getting more people involved in meetings, and reviewing design revision in real-time.  

Water Resources

Positives: More participation in public hearings for projects, smaller firms/municipalities can pivot faster than they thought they could, working from home, virtual meetings, and no commute leads to a better work-life balance, not to mention better for the environment. 
Challenges: Reaching those with limited technology or the elderly is always a challenge. Connecting with the public and mentoring younger staff virtually is difficult. Additionally, implementing and enforcing new mask requirements was a challenge. 


Each year, 133 billion pounds of wasted food are generated in the U.S., making it the No. 1 item Americans throw away. At the same time, more than 37 million Americans are food insecure, and it is estimated that only 15 years of capacity remain in the nation’s landfills according to a study by Waste Business Journal.

There is good news, though. Food waste is an extremely solvable problem – everyone can do something to help, and the movement to reduce the amount of food going to landfill is growing in popularity. Public works and solid waste programs can play a significant role in this reduction, no matter their method of approach.

A lot of programs focus on large-scale composting to manage food waste, whether by setting up their own facilities or by working with a commercial composter to establish a pick-up service for residents. Sometimes, though, a lack of funding or strict regulations makes this method difficult. When obstacles block the way to managing food that’s already been wasted, the best bet is to focus on reducing that waste in the first place.

The Don’t Waste Food SC campaign (DWFSC) in South Carolina works with many local governments within the state to plan and grow efforts to educate residents about food waste reduction and to use extra food to feed hungry people. Since the campaign was developed in 2015, DWFSC has worked with stakeholders from state government, businesses large and small to community outposts and individual residents. They have determined some best practices for both creating a food waste reduction campaign and for expanding it to make it a success.

  1. Get goal-oriented

A good place to begin is to determine campaign objectives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a nationwide goal to cut wasted food in half by 2030. This is a solid, measurable goal that many programs have adopted across the country. “You don’t have to get too lofty. Targets can include things like increasing donations to local food banks, signing on a certain number of food waste reduction partners or teaching as many people as possible about how to keep food out of the garbage bin,” said Richard Chesley, founder of DWFSC.

It’s smart to determine if there already are established campaigns in a state or region before doing too much. Reaching out on the national level also can be helpful – the Save the Food campaign offers educational advertising material as well as a website full of practical information, and ReFED is a data-driven non-profit organization developing tools to empower local governments and others to make meaningful change. Doing research can help prevent doubling up on work that’s already been done.

  1. Get involved

The next step is to identify potential partners. Colleges/universities in the community likely already have efforts in place to reduce food waste and donate wherever possible. DWFSC co-manager Adah Gorton said, ”Set up a meeting with a college’s solid waste and cafeteria staff. Chances are, you’ll not only get some good tips, but you’ll end up with a couple of excellent partners for your campaign.” Neighboring local governments also may be trying to develop similar initiatives, in which case combining efforts has the potential to go twice as far. Restaurants were the original food waste warriors, understanding that food that doesn’t get eaten makes for profit that doesn’t get made, so they have a lot of knowledge to share. The beauty of tackling this issue is that there’s room for everyone to get involved, so creativity is key.

Some city councils have food policy committees that handle concerns about food insecurity and availability among other issues. It is possible they will allow public works to suggest adding an action item to their agenda addressing food waste reduction and connecting excess food to hungry people. If possible, having a public works employee sit on the committee helps bridge the gap between the residents served by the program and the discussions had by the committee.

  1. Get social

Attending popular public events is a great way to reach out and have conversations. Engaging the entire community is key, and luckily the way to anyone’s attention is through their stomach. DWFSC’s co-managers frequent Columbia’s Soda City Market and other farmers markets and vendor fairs while also annually attending get-togethers including the SC Minority Health Summit and the Tasty Tomato Festival. “There have been a few weeks where we’re basically living out of the car,” said DWFSC co-manager Amanda Edwards, “but we know it’s so important to say yes to opportunities across the board. We’ve spoken to some audiences thinking we’d hear crickets, and they ended up being the most excited and responsive folks we’ve talked to!” A few categories to keep in mind include food distribution events/food drives, nutrition-related summits, cooking demos and food festivals.

Get on social media. Developing an online network with campaign partners and residents, and participating by writing, liking and sharing posts, attracts an audience that may not receive information via more traditional media. People love to share helpful tips, photos and videos on the web, and nothing gets them on board with an effort like showing them the people behind it are out and about in the community.


DWFSC’s social media centers on waste reduction tips anyone can use.

  1. Don’t forget

Just because large-scale composting isn’t an option doesn’t mean composting isn’t possible. One course of action is to encourage residents to compost at home. Some state environmental agencies (including South Carolina) offer grant funding to purchase bins for local government programs to sell at below-retail rates or give away to attendees at a composting workshop. With some research, it’s easy to develop a class about proper backyard composting methods to provide for those purchasing bins. It’s also a good plan to partner with stormwater management to pair the compost bin sale and class with one for rain barrels.

Whether a program works with a few hundred people or several thousand, the impact that can be made with some simple produce-handling tips and guidance on donating extras can be felt in any community. Wasted food means wasted resources, but with a little effort, that food can make a big difference.

Adah Gorton can be reached at (803) 898-1328 or More information about Don’t Waste Food SC can be found at


Adah Gorton, Co-manager, Don’t Waste Food SC