Lifting the lid on garbage issues
Making the garbageman's life harder means more tax dollars spent
Saturday, Jul 05, 2014 06:00 am
Mike Mitchell sees the garbage from both sides: as a city resident and as a public works team leader, who moved up through the ranks from the day he started working some 30 years ago, as a garbage truck driver himself. Now, his job is to manage the staff who pick up between 1,200 and 2,100 brown bins each day. He’s proud of his staff and his co-residents, but he also believes things could be even better.
“I would say 95 per cent of the people in St. Albert follow the rules and it’s getting better all the time. But the city and the residents have to work together and when people don’t comply with some of the rules, the whole thing falls apart,” Mitchell said.
To demonstrate, Mitchell drove to several Deer Ridge crescents and cul-de-sacs. On one particularly cramped cul-de-sac, which had an island in the centre, Mitchell watched a garbage truck operator try to manoeuvre between two pickup trucks parked with their noses to the curb and the box sticking out into the street.
“It’s illegal to park your truck like that, with the nose in. The garbage truck can’t get close. I have no problem with them parking like that on any other day, but on garbage day please don’t park like that. It’s even harder in the winter when the operators have even less room,” Mitchell said.
If the garbage truck cannot get safely around the vehicle, the operator will put a sticker on the bin, to let the resident know the truck was parked illegally. The garbage will not be picked up. That usually generates an angry phone call, Mitchell said.
“The owner will say his garbage wasn’t picked up and that he is a taxpayer and so on and so on. The fact is, the truck operator could not safely pick up the garbage.”
On another street a homeowner has over-filled the green bin with branches. Again the bin is stickered and the compostable material is left for another week.
“Inside our hopper there is a camera. The driver needs the camera to look into the hopper when the load is dumped. The branches break the camera and each camera is worth $1,000,” Mitchell said.
There is more at stake than an expensive camera. Sometimes residents put dangerous goods in their bins, and the only way the operator will know is by looking at the video.
“In the old days, the garbage truck driver lifted the bin and if there were dangerous goods – like propane bottles – he would see them and take them out and put them back on the curb. A propane bottle could explode like a bomb and kill the driver and passersby,” Mitchell explained.
Lids must be closed so that they are not damaged when the mechanical grabber lifts them and pinches them before dumping the load.
“The arms pinch and then break the lid if it’s open. And if there are bags on top of the bin, when they are lifted, they spill all over the road.”
The drivers will not pick up garbage from the road, a city policy that has never changed, Mitchell said.
“If you have excess garbage, you can pick up a sticker at city hall or at Fountain Park Pool and it will be picked up.”
The bins should not be placed directly under a tree, because as it is lifted some 14 feet up into the air, branches will be broken. Similarly, when bins are placed under basketball hoops, the driver has to get out of the truck to move them before lifting them.
“I know that every house has two boulevard trees, so it’s a challenge, but it can be managed,” he said.
In some cases the garbage may have to be placed directly on the driveway, he suggested.
Mitchell stressed that for the most part, a day’s worth of garbage pick-up goes very smoothly.
“It’s a really good program we have here in St. Albert. Compared to before, we have zero spills, zero mess from birds and we have zero injuries from drivers because they are not picking up four or five hundred bins a day. If people would just help us, we would have Cadillac service. We’re dedicated to that,” Mitchell said.