County to Start Automated Trash Pickup January 1st

Leslee Kulba- Trash collector Waste Pro was awarded another franchise agreement with Buncombe County. Waste Pro had a less than graceful entry on the local scene almost a decade ago, registering a high volume of customer complaints.

Then, after a public meeting in which county leadership made it clear the missed pickups and shortage of customer service could not continue, it seemed one could not go anywhere without seeing a happy hauler. Waste Pro had rallied, investing over $19 million to save its first contract in the state, but some citizens still weren’t happy about the renewal.

The county’s Solid Waste Director Dane Pedersen explained the selection process. The county for some time had been running a “Let’s Talk Trash” online survey asking citizens what they wanted from their solid waste haulers. The responses were used to set expectations for companies responding to an RFP that was issued in January. Seven haulers attended a pre-bid meeting, two of the companies placed bids, and Waste Pro was the only responsive bidder. Waste Pro now expects to spend another $7 million meeting the terms of the new agreement.

With the new contract, residents in unincorporated areas of Buncombe County wishing to subscribe to the service will receive rollout containers like those used in the City of Asheville, one for trash and one for recyclables. Subscribers, who may be either residents or small businesses, will have their choice of a 96-, 64-, or 48-gallon container. To pay for the carts, it was recommended that collection rates increase from $16.08 to $19.21 a month. Bear-proof containers are also available for $300 each.

Items allowed in the recycling bins will vary with markets, and Waste Pro is to update customers on what is allowed each year. Currently, only mixed paper and metal, plastic, and glass containers would be accepted. Cardboard boxes are to be flattened and placed under the carts. Subscribers will have to negotiate arrangements for the collection of white goods and yard waste; and the hauler may not pick up hazardous waste and need not pick up trash “where the owner or tenants have animals at large.”

Persons unable to pull a rollout cart can get backdoor service with a doctor’s note and verification that no able-bodied person resides in the household. Healthy people can get backdoor service for a premium of up to $25 per month. Premiums also would apply for subscriber homes accessible only via long, remote drives. Those not wishing to subscribe can still take their trash to the landfill or the transfer station. Trash will be collected weekly, and recyclables biweekly. For extra-trashy occasions, like children’s birthdays, subscribers will be able to purchase special stickers for placement on ordinary trash bags.

The rollout containers will be an easy way for drivers to identify subscribers and eliminate any need to verify accounts. The flipside is, those dumping illegally will run a higher risk of being turned over to authorities. A couple photos of illegal dumps were displayed, and Pedersen said, “This is not atypical.” The bags, he said, could be infested, putting waste haulers at-risk; or they could leak into drainage areas causing other environmental hazards.

In addition to eliminating contact with pathogens, the “one-armed bandit” trucks and rollout containers would reduce the injury rate for trash crews by 70% because, for example, helpers have been known to twist an ankle jumping off the truck, throw a shoulder slinging trash, or even jump into oncoming traffic. Furthermore, using a “one-armed bandit” truck, one operator alone can sling 30% more trash than a traditional truck with a driver and a helper. All told, Waste Pro will be adding 13 trucks to its fleet, six of which will be CNG, and two of which will be small for navigating country roads.

Another investment is in a 3rd Eye fleet management camera system. Division Manager Johnny Lea explained cameras on each truck use GPS to track where drivers are while livestreaming video to an observation center in Dallas. Footage can be used to verify, for example, whether or not customers missed a pickup because they didn’t have their trash out on-time. Observers in Dallas will record and score events to identify operational issues and recommend coaching. Lea said Waste Pro will also maintain a wall of shame to disincentivize driver bloopers.

To hold Waste Pro’s feet to the fire, the county is requiring the company to maintain a $1 million bond for the duration of the contract, which will last five years with options for two, two-year extensions. The county has also established a schedule of fines in a liquidated damages clause. Offenses, with penalties running in the hundreds of dollars, include missing pickups, failing to file recycling reports on time, and driving down the road with trash flying or leaking out of a truck.

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