Possible Changes in the Works for Trash Collection, Recycling in Our Neighborhood
Bracing themselves for pushback from the public, ACC commissioners last week began to consider how (or whether) to revise the county’s system of residential trash pickup to deal with frequent complaints of too many trash trucks rumbling through neighborhoods…a public input meeting on waste collection is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and a survey is online at accgov.com/collectionsurvey. The subject will then be taken up again at a fall work session.
Athens Banner-Herald 8/16/19:
Athens could see big changes in trash hauling and recycling— how it’s collected, and how it’s processed.
Athens-Clarke commissioners are considering a change in residential waste collections in the county’s so-called “urban services district,” which is more or less the part of Athens-Clarke County that was the city of Athens before the Clarke County and Athens city governments consolidated more than 20 years ago.
At the time, Athens city government collected waste and recycling within the city, while residents outside the city could hire private haulers or take their garbage and recycling to the landfill themselves.
That could change, however. The government might change policy and expand residential collection zones to include the entire county, leaving commercial collections, such as the factories in Athens’ industrial zones, to private haulers.
That scenario would increase Solid Waste Department operating expenses, but increase its revenues even more, according to rough estimates Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Director Suki Jannsen shared with commissioners during a recent work session. The expansion would also require about $6.6 million in capital costs such as additional collection trucks.
The department now collects from about 9,600 homes in the Urban Service District. Of the roughly 17,000 homes outside that zone, private companies serve about 11,000, leaving about 5,700 reported “self-haulers,” she said.
“Maybe we do have 5,000 self-haulers, but that seems like a lot,” she said.
Alternatively, some jurisdictions, including nearby Gwinnett County, have adopted a zoned model, Janssen told commissioners in a recent work session. In Gwinnett, five zones are divided up among private companies.
In that scenario, the formerly unincorporated part of Athens-Clarke County could be divided into several zones, and trash hauling companies would bid to become the sole provider within that zone. That model could reduce the number of noisy garbage trucks rolling weekly through some neighborhoods where residents are serviced by several waste hauling companies, and could improve service quality, Janssen said.
Commissioners could also choose a third option; expanding the area served by Athens-Clarke County trucks.
It may also be time to re-think recycling practices, Janssen told commissioners.
Several years ago, the Solid Waste Department adopted a single-stream approach. Recyclers can put all their metal, paper, cardboard and glass recycling into one bin, and the material is sorted into separate streams after delivery to the government’s recycling facility on Hancock Industrial Way.
But as recycling markets have collapsed in recent years, some communities are rethinking not only the single-stream approach, but recycling in general.
China, for years a big market for U.S. cardboard and plastic, has tightened contamination limits on the recyclables it buys, greatly reducing recycling exports and increasing the costs of recycling.
“It’s been pretty awful when it comes to markets lately,” she said.
Some jurisdictions no longer recycle glass, which is more difficult to market when it’s not separated by colors, she said. The Solid Waste Department plans to come back to the commission in October to talk about funding for recycling, Janssen said.
Commissioners’ initial reactions varied as they talked about the possible changes in solid waste collections.
“It seems like the better option is to do it ourselves,” said District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby.
Disrict 5 Commissioner Tim Denson thought people would love the zoned approach.
“I don’t want to put the private haulers out of business,” said District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith. “I think we need to let the entrepreneurs survive.”
District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod didn’t like the zoned idea, either.
“I am in favor of choice,” said Herod, who would “keep the current system with some tweaks.”
Commissioners get constant complaints about noisy trash haulers, whose trucks sometimes spill trash in addition to picking it up. Already, ACC has limited the number of residential haulers to five companies in order to limit the number of trucks rumbling through neighborhoods, but that hasn’t stopped the complaints. A work session this week will consider other possibilities, including a zone system that would allow only one hauler to serve each area outside the former city limits, which are served by the government’s own trucks. The zone approach was rejected several years ago, but as complaints continue, commissioners may be more friendly to it.
Still, some have reservations: “You’re removing people’s choice,” Commissioner Andy Herod noted at last week’s first-Tuesday voting meeting. “You do create a monopoly.”
Haulers might bid on each zone, since some neighborhoods are denser than others, or the county’s own trash service could expand to serve the entire county, eliminating private haulers entirely.
County regs already allow for another possibility, and commissioners used it last week for the first time: If a neighborhood served by private haulers wishes to be served instead by the county’s trucks, either 60 homeowners or a commissioner can request the change. Last week, Commissioner Russell Edwards made that request for Riverbend Parkway, where homeowners say trucks of four haulers making round trips along the dead-end street create noise and safety risks. County staffers will study impacts of such a change, and there will be a public hearing before a final commission vote. If accepted, “it’s going to add cost” for the county, Manager Blaine Williams said, but residents served by county trucks must pay a monthly trash fee.
Several commissioners were enthusiastic as they approved corridor studies (costing $400,000) for Lexington Road and Atlanta Highway. The Lexington plans have been a “long time coming,” Herod said, with input from hundreds of citizens, and significant construction by GDOT will begin next year at the Loop, where traffic backs up regularly. Neither corridor has continuous sidewalks; the studies recommend building sidewalks along the south side of Atlanta Highway and along Mitchell Bridge Road, and along the south side of Lexington Road to Southeast Clarke Park. They suggest adding a bus transfer station inside the Loop and “premium” bus service on both corridors, along with automated bus preference at stoplights; added landscaping, including a center median on Lexington Road; and improved crosswalks. New “pocket” parks and connective multi-use paths are also proposed, but $4 million from the transportation sales tax earmarked for each corridor won’t fund all the studies’ proposals.