RACINE — In the 2020 budget, one of Public Works Commissioner John Rooney’s goals for the year was to rework the city’s waste collection procedures, which he said are inefficient, expensive and take DPW workers away from other tasks, such as street and curb maintenance.
“This is something that is very important to the department,” Rooney told the Public Works and Services Committee on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve become a department of public waste instead of a department of public works.”
Rooney said the proposed changes were put together over the course of two months, with input from DPW employees up and down the chain of command. Street Superintendent Randy Easchmann told the committee: “Everybody is involved.”
“We’ve addressed everything in here. We’ve got the employees on board,” said Easchmann. “This is a well thought-out plan.”
The changes, which are scheduled to roll out Feb. 3, address how the city handles public holiday pickup schedules, bulky waste and more. The goal is to have more waste picked up (instead of dumped), use fewer resources and have more DPW workers available for other needed work, such as filling potholes and working to improve Racine’s roads.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday, will be the last holiday on which DPW uses the current holiday waste collection system. On Tuesday, DPW workers will pick up trash in both the Monday and Tuesday neighborhoods, which requires all waste collection vehicles except for one and an additional 18 employees.
That system affects vehicle maintenance and cannot be done at the same time as any weather-related tasks — brining, plowing or leaf collection. The Thanksgiving holiday causes a significant delay in leaf collection, especially if inclement weather arises. So far there hasn’t been an overlap between a double-collection date and a major weather event, but Rooney said the city has “been playing Russian roulette with mother nature.”
With double the waste to collect, overtime comes into play. Some days, the landfill is closed by the time the last of the waste is picked up, which means employees need to come in early the next day to dump the previous day’s waste.
Rooney’s proposal would simply rotate waste pickup after the holiday. Instead of having set dates for pickup, each area will be designated as either area A, B, C, D or E. If Area A is scheduled for pickup on Monday and a holiday falls on Monday, A would switch to Tuesday pickup and everyone else would also fall one day back. The schedule would stay that way — A on Tuesday, B on Wednesday, etc. — until the next holiday where A would be pushed back to Wednesday pickup.
The worst-case scenario would be if someone forgot about the change and left their trash out one day early. Rooney said people would not be ticketed for having their trash out the day before pickup.
“We’re not going to be punitive about this,” said Rooney.
The new schedule will be disseminated in a brochure the department plans to send out in the near future, as well as uploaded to the DPW’s website.
Rooney described the city’s bulky waste system as “a runaway train.”
The current process asks that residents call and schedule bulky waste pickup. Each household has four free pickups per year; after that, they are charged $50 for each additional pickup.
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The DPW receives 4,600 calls and performs more than 4,000 bulky waste pickups annually, scattered across the city. Four full-time employees handle bulky waste pickup scheduling under that system.
“The phone rings off the hook for bulky waste pickup,” said Rooney. “In addition to the zillion other things we have to track for DPW.”
Because crews have about 20 to 30 pickups per day, callers often have to have theirs scheduled further out, which may be why about 600 cancelled. Rooney said they don’t know if those who cancel end up taking their items to the landfill or just dump them somewhere else.
The result has been an increase in people dumping items in alleys or piling their items onto their neighbors’ bulky waste. The department puts up a no-parking sign at the pickup site the day before; on the day, crews arrive at a pile stretching from property line to property line, some as tall as a human being, and may include trash bags containing ordinary household trash, Rooney said.
The process is time-consuming and expensive. Also, use of the service has increased by 17%.
Rooney has renamed the program Household Bulky Items and has decided that each residence will be limited to five items per week, which will be picked up alongside regular garbage. Each bulky item must be tagged; along with the brochure explaining the changes, the city plans to send out four sheets with five tags (a total of 20 tags) to each residence. Additional tags can be picked up at the DPW; the City Clerk’s office; Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave.; and the Humble Park Community Center, 2200 Blaine Ave.
By limiting the number of items picked up at any given time, the DPW will be able to compress those items with the regular garbage. Compressed garbage costs about $46 per ton to leave at the landfill, whereas garbage that has to be compressed at the landfill costs $90 per ton.
The new system also is to save workers time, time which can then be spent picking up garbage that has been dumped in unauthorized locations, such as alleys. Rooney projects the department could reduce operating costs by $100,000.
Residents will no longer be limited to their carts for household solid waste pickup: In the new system, residents will be allowed to leave up to three 42-gallon garbage bags with their cart.
Residents also will be able to put out one clear blue bag, 42 gallons or fewer, of recycling with their recycling cart for pickup. Any cardboard small enough to be handled by one person can be left out as well.
For businesses, the city will no longer accept bagged recycling and will require all recyclable materials to be in a cart. The city also plans to crack down on businesses that break glass items so that more can be fit into a cart.
Rooney said the hydraulics on a few trucks were blown trying to lift overweight carts that were packed with broken glass. Any carts that are too heavy for the trucks to tip will not be collected.
“If you need six carts for recycling, you need to pay for six carts,” he said.
The bulky waste collection satellite centers at 1936 Edgewood Ave. and 1955 Grove Ave. will be closed. Green waste, such as grass clippings and other yard waste, will no longer be picked up, except during fall and spring leaf collection; such waste can still be dropped off at the facility at 800 Pearl St.
Rooney stressed that the overall goal is to provide better service, save the department money and have employees taking care of the countless other things DPW workers must do.
The Public Works and Services Committee voted to receive and file Rooney’s presentation. The DPW plans to implement the new procedures starting Feb. 3.