City conducts survey on using roll carts for trash collection

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | 3:27 p.m. CDT; updated 5:51 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

COLUMBIA — The city is conducting an online survey to determine whether it should switch to roll carts for trash collection.

The nine-question survey on the city’s website asks residents about the current trash collection system, which uses bags,  and whether roll carts would better serve the community.

Currently, the city runs eight trash routes each day with 21 employees collecting bagged trash manually.

If the city adopts the new system, residents would discard trash into reusable bins on wheels to be picked up by automated trucks, said Richard Wieman, the city’s solid waste utility manager.

The bins range in size from 32 to 96 gallons; the 64-gallon bin is the most common size. The city will distribute one bin per household. If extra bins are needed, the residents can buy them from the city, Wieman said.

Households can place the bins on the curb or at the end of the driveway where it is easy for the trucks to pick them up, he said.

The city will own the carts, and each will have a serial number printed on it. The residents will need to maintain the bins, and they may be charged if bins are lost or damaged.

Using automated systems to pick up trash in roll carts is replacing manual labor collection in cities across the country, Wieman said. 

“The industry appears to be moving in that direction,” he said.

If the city were to purchase automated trucks as part of the system, they would run on natural gas and replace the current diesel engine trucks, Wieman said.

In addition, with automated trucks, employees may be able to work longer hours for fewer days each week. Flexible scheduling is also possible, he said.

A natural gas truck costs more than a diesel truck. However, the city has not performed an economic analysis to determine the cost of a new fleet of trucks.

For customers, the roll-cart system makes it more equitable financially. The bag system makes it possible for a family with a large volume of trash to have the same benefit as one with less garbage.

Under the roll cart system, each household would get just one free bin, requiring residents to buy additional bins to handle large amounts of trash.

Fulton, Jefferson City and Moberly have already converted to the automated system. Fulton made the switch in 1995. Its two automated trucks pick up 350 to 600 bins of solid waste a day.

J.C. Miller, Fulton’s solid waste manager, said it’s not a cheap way to start out because the automated trucks cost more. But he pointed to several benefits of the system.

Workers used to strain their backs because they were picking up trash by hand, he said.

Fulton has also found the automated trucks to be more efficient.

"Instead of having two people on the trucks, we only have one person," Miller said. "It's just as fast if not faster than doing it by hand."

In order to successfully implement the program, he said, both the city and the residents had to make some adjustments.

At the outset, the city distributed fliers and door hangers to residents to describe the details of the new program, such as what direction the carts need to face for pick-up and where cars needed to be parked on collection day.

Miller said the city also had to make sure customers continued to bag their trash before putting it into the containers.

Wieman said it would take approximately 12 months after City Council approval to implement the conversion, either all at one time or phased in over several years.

The earliest the system could be implemented is sometime during 2013.

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Mike Martin August 31, 2011 | 6:40 p.m.

Automated garbage collection is a great idea, and one of many reasons I harp on Columbia's need to REDIRECT its precious financial resources toward things that help both citizens and city employees -- not just administrators in fancy offices.

Automated garbage collection is commonplace in many other cities. Here are a couple of Youtube videos that describe it in action (second one has a heavy metal soundtrack to boot):

Here's the whole process in action, on a real-life city street:

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