Monday, June 8, 2009

Coming soon: Changes to my city's garbage collection

One of my personal goals was to attend a city council meeting where I live. While I have not made it to a full council meeting, I recently made it to a special meeting of the Public Works Committee. Why did I care about the Public Works meeting? It was discussing changes in refuse and recycling pickup in my city. Four different contractors were competing for the city's contract, which is set to expire January 1, 2010.

Our current garbage and recycling handler is the largest in the United States--Waste Management. They manually collect garbage and recycling curbside with unlimited pickup. What does this mean? Residents are not charged extra for discarding lots of items on the curb. For those of us who put out a garbage can once every three months, we subsidize those who put out garbage weekly. In an ideal world, I would rather have a pay-for-what-you-discard plan.

However, the meeting was about the four potential contractors giving a short presentation and answering six questions posed by the city council. All four put in bids for automated collection of garbage and recycling; two put in bids for manual collection including the city's current contractor. Automated recycling means each address would have to get two new bins, store them and wheel them out on collection day. The size of the containers ranged from 32 gallons to a whopping 96 gallons. When I asked a contractor why give someone license to discard 96 gallons worth of stuff, he answered, "large families need it" and informed me about the unlimited pickup. I was skeptical about this "necessity". When I was growing up, I was one of five children and we did not discard enough garbage to fill up a 96-gallon bin in a single week.

The main lesson I learned from this meeting: garbage and recycling collection by contractors is not a simple process. The meeting was sparsely attended for an issue that affects the entire city. All the contractors emphasized how using automated pickup increased recycling efforts by over 10%. Two contractors informed the audience that the automated collection bins helped beautify the city with our garbage neatly contained in the plastic bins and picked up automatically. I can vouch for the messiness of manual pickup since I have found items by my curb that I never discarded. Yet, we would have to pay for these brand new bins and still deal with the old ones we have. Not the greenest endeavor for the planet.

While I appreciated learning more about how garbage and recycling collection works, I was discouraged by the fuel surcharges, the size of the bins and the emphasis on being greener via recycling without any consideration for the pollution generated by 25 ton garbage trucks that stop and start constantly. I have my personal pick for the contract I would like to see filled but the smaller, family-owned operation with their own recycling plant will likely be outbid by the larger companies. I will see what happens later this month when the committee votes on the matter.

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