In January, Denver will implement the first stage of its à la carte garbage collection program.
The changes come with a lot of trepidation from residents who have seen their service reliability falter this year due to a staffing shortage at the city’s solid waste management division. Denver auditor Tim O’Brien and his team are among those who aren’t convinced the city can pull it all off.
In November, the Denver Auditor’s Office released a killer report on the city’s garbage collection services as they currently stand and the city’s readiness to expand that work for the pay-as-you program. -throw. Based on research conducted between February and July this year, the auditor’s office found that the city’s solid waste division was not effectively set up to collect the waste that city residents were producing even before to extend the recycling and composting service.
“The audit revealed that the Solid Waste Management Division lacks strategic direction and quality data, has an aging fleet of waste collection trucks and is understaffed for its current operations. “, wrote O’Brien in a November 17 letter accompanying this report. “We found that this new program was not effectively designed to provide stable funding or to advance the city’s environmental goals, and it could compound existing service delivery issues for residents.”
But Denver Department of Transportation officials are preaching that they are ready to begin the pay-as-you-go program next month and are committed to improving practices going forward.
In a response letter to the audit, Margaret Medellin, the city’s assistant director of public services, agreed to all of the steps recommended by O’Brien and his team. This includes drafting a strategic plan by the end of next year that will address garbage collection performance, including whether the service is reliable and whether the city is charging enough or too much.
“(The division) will adjust the program as necessary as a result of these performance reviews,” the letter from Medellin read.
The division also plans to bring vehicle supply back in-house to address concerns about aging trucks, according to the letter from Medellin.
But in the short term, the division has made progress in hiring and is bringing in outside help to ensure the weekly recycling pickup is reliable from next month.
The city council on Monday signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with Little Dumpsters, a Douglas County-based private waste hauler that will handle recycling pickups for about 28,000 of approximately 180,000 customers. of residential waste in the city.
This contract should provide a bridge for the solid waste division to navigate the growing pay-as-you-go challenges, Medellin said during the board meeting.
Richard Villa, acting director of the solid waste division, boasted that (thanks in part to $5,000 signing bonuses) his department should have 118 of the 121 drivers it needs to handle the start of the program in place. here on December 19. On Monday, division personnel interviewed nine other candidates and expected to make eight job offers, Villa said. That puts it on track to handle expanded composting when that part of the pay-as-you-go program rolls out later next year.
Councilor Kevin Flynn, who was among the no when council voted 8-5 to approve the collection changes in June, called the hiring rate remarkable. Before voting against the program, Flynn had proposed an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the program until October 2023 to allow time for more hiring, but it was defeated. On Monday, he noted that missed garbage collection is one of the most common complaints council members hear from constituents.
Pay-as-you-throw is a far-reaching overhaul of how the city collects trash, recycles and composts waste. Most Denver homeowners will have to start paying out of pocket — anywhere from $9 to $21 a month, depending on the size of trash can they need — to have their trash cans emptied weekly. It is a service that for decades has been paid for out of the general fund. Meanwhile, recycling collection will go from every other week to one week and composting will be free for any residential customer who wants it, although it will still take months for the compost bins to be distributed to everyone. who are interested.
Dan Pierson, a southwest Denver resident, is among those who called Flynn’s office this year about his missed trash pickups.
“I would have been happy to vote for a tax increase because it’s pretty transparent to me,” Pierson said this week of the pay-as-you-go program. “But they can’t pick up my trash in time now.”
Pay-as-you-throw comes hot on the heels of the city change garbage collection schedules at the start of the year, in particular because of the shortage of drivers. These changes condensed pickups into four days instead of five.
This arrangement did not work well in the Pierson neighborhood near the Loretto Heights campus.
“It was almost like they flipped a switch at the start of 2022,” he said.
He estimates that his trash can and recycling bin were picked up as scheduled every Thursday, maybe five or six times a year.
“The rest of the time, it’s a day late. At least a day or two,” Pierson said. “It’s the whole neighborhood. Half the time, our streets are lined with garbage cans. It’s ugly. It’s dangerous.”
The auditor’s report found calls to the city’s 311 customer service line skyrocketed in January after collection schedule changes were made. Over 5,600 calls were received that month. Dating back to mid-2019, the city had never received more than 3,300 calls for missed pickups in a month. The number of calls dropped significantly after January.
Pierson expects to pay $252 for its garbage collection services next year, $21 a month for a 95-gallon bin, the largest available. He is happy to have a recycling service and although he has no intention of using the new free compost bins planned for Denver customers, he knows that many of his neighbors will and support him. also.
But he has a lot of questions that shippers announcing garbage collection changes haven’t answered for him. What will their billing look like? Will the city spend money on overhead, like sending bills and processing payments? Who will ensure that the composting and recycling bins are not contaminated with waste? Drivers are already overworked, he said.
Familiarizing the public with a new quarterly billing system is the public works department’s next goal, spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo said. It is an effort that will be played between January and March. Paperless invoicing will be available online. Residents will also be able to change the size of their bins through the website. Discounts of 50% to 100% are available for low-income residents, she said. A link to the application is available at denvergov.org.
One of the main goals of the change is to get people to divert recyclable and compostable waste from landfills that generate greenhouse gases. The city will have the ability to issue fines to people who are found to contaminate their recycling and compost bins with trash, but initially the focus will be on education, Lacayo said. This will mean that drivers will flag contaminated bins so that city staff can contact residents afterwards and highlight proper disposal.
Once new weekly recycling billing and pickup schedules are more established, the city will move on to educating residents about what can and cannot be composted through upcoming green bins, Lacayo said. Currently, about 30,000 Denver residents pay for city composting. Another 25 composting trucks are on order to ensure the city can service, but many more of the city’s 180,000 solid waste customers are signing up.
“People can probably call right now if they want to opt out of composting,” Lacayo said.However, we hope that people will try and use these services. They are included at no additional cost.
It was the prospect of a lot more biodegradable waste being turned into compost that got Alex Roth excited about the pay-as-you-throw rollout. The environmental benefits were the reason the city undertook the redesign in the first place.
Roth, who lives in Sunnyside, used to have a home composting system but switched to a municipal trash can because the city’s commercial composting can break down heavier things like pizza boxes.
Roth missed a compost pickup at his house, but he’s still excited about the upcoming changes for the environmental benefits.
“Ultimately, this is absolutely the right direction for our city and our state,” he said. “Does it concern me a bit that we can tackle this issue within the proposed time frame? Yes, but I’m cautiously optimistic that everything will be on track in the future.
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