Tote placement is only snag in new automated trash program

It’s been more than a month since the city started using new automated garbage trucks: Things are going pretty well, but city officials say many residents are forgetting to put their trash totes four feet from other objects.

The totes have to be four feet away from the recycling tote, four feet from parked cars, four feet from the house, and four feet away from any other stationary object that might be in the way, such as street signs, trees, fire hydrants and telephone polls, city officials said.

Right now there are two employees on each garbage truck. Public Works Director Chris Saley said the second person can move the tote if it is too close to the recycle bin, the house or another object.

But the goal is to reduce manpower by placing only one person on a truck. Once the additional person is taken off the truck, residents will have to put their bins four feet from other obstructions or their trash may not be picked up. Saley said notes have been prepared to place on people’s totes if they cannot be picked up because of their placement.

The note lists other requirements for pickup, too: Only trash can be put in the tote; items must be in the tote and not next to it; the tote has to be at the curb by 6 a.m.; the arrow on the tote has to point toward the street, and the resident must use the city-provided tote, not a privately purchased trash can.

When the program first rolled out at the end of October, the Public Works Department was getting about 20 to 30 calls a day from residents who had questions or concerns. But that is down to just a couple of calls a day now, Saley said, adding that indicates people are getting used to the program.

Each household received a new 96-gallon garbage tote in October to use with the automated trash pickup, unless they requested the smaller version.

The trash pickup program relies on new, automated garbage trucks the city purchased earlier this year. The city bought five new trucks at about $270,000 each.

Jokingly called “the one-armed bandit” by some city officials, the trucks have an automated hydraulic “arm” that hooks the garbage tote, lifts it and dumps the contents into the garbage truck.

In a press statement issued as the program was getting ready to launch, Mayor Ben Blake said, “This new program will reduce the amount spent on garbage collection, improve employee safety and provide residents with a clean, convenient and attractive way to dispose of household garbage.”

Three to four employees staffed each garbage truck under the old way of collecting garbage, but with the new, automated trucks, city officials expect to have only one person on a truck once training is done and the technicalities are ironed out.

Despite a few wrinkles, Saley said things are going “very, very well,” and he praised the Public Works Department staff and Acting Sanitation Foreman Bill Plantumura for their work.

In addition to the cost of the new trucks, the city paid about $1 million for the new totes. Mayor Blake said that with the reduced manpower, it should take about a year and half for the city to realize a return on the investment.

While manpower will be lower, Blake doesn’t foresee layoffs. He said public works staff will be assigned to work in other areas of the department, and some positions will be eliminated as employees retire or leave the department.

The department is looking at some other “cool things” too. Saley said the department plans to launch a pilot yard waste program. For $100, the first 500 residents to sign on will get a tote and then free pickup of yard waste placed in the tote between April and October.

For information, call 203-701-4690.