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City working out kinks of waste program

No new program comes without dents and spills, the city is learning one week into its new waste collection program.
Barb Ferguson of Grandin snapped this photo of a pile of organic waste left in the middle of the street
Barb Ferguson of Grandin snapped this photo of a pile of organic waste left in the middle of the street

No new program comes without dents and spills, the city is learning one week into its new waste collection program.

Last Wednesday was the official start date for the new program, which is centred around each household having two upright plastic containers — one for garbage and another for organic waste.

Households were to have their carts by June 1 but some are still taking delivery this week. Meanwhile, the Gazette has heard reports of wheels falling off the carts, the wrong sizes being delivered to homes, automated pickers leaving the carts too far from the curb, heaps of waste getting left on the street, carts being dented by the picker truck and truck drivers making three attempts to reach difficult curbs.

"It's going pretty well as expected," said public works director Glenn Tompolski.

The city is fielding between 350 and 400 calls a day about the program, he said.

Residents are adjusting to new pickup schedules, which assign a specific day of the week to each neighbourhood. Organics are picked up once a week during the summer and garbage is picked up every two weeks.

The city is providing the option of three different sizes of garbage cart and two sizes for organics. It currently has about 800 requests for different cart sizes that will take a couple weeks to process, Tompolski said.

He acknowledged that about two per cent of calls are related to people getting the wrong size of cart.

"You'd like to be perfectly error-free but it's unrealistic to think that could actually happen," he said.

The city spent around $2 million on 37,000 carts. It also spent $1.5 million on five custom picker trucks.

Residents are paying for the program through their monthly utility bills that will have new fees of $1.10, $4.40 or $9, depending on their garbage subscription level.

Placement and bags

Tompolski wanted to remind residents to place their carts with the wheels in the gutter of the curb and space them at least a metre from any object on either side. Also, only biodegradable bags and not plastic are allowed in the green organics carts, he said.

Many people are still leaving out bags of organic waste, which the city is picking up as a courtesy though these aren't compatible with the new system.

"First time around we're being very forgiving," Tompolski said.

Several residents have raised concerns about the longevity of the carts. One resident sent the Gazette a photo of a dented cart. There was one instance where the truck dropped a cart then drove over it, said Tompolski.

He's had inquiries about the truck arms slamming the carts down. The arms are designed to swing the cart down quickly then slow down just prior to dropping them, he said.

The carts come with a 10-year warranty.

"Speaking to the cities that have purchased the carts, very, very low damage rate on them," he said.

Some of St. Albert's cul-de-sacs are hard to reach for drivers, who usually sit on the left and use a camera to guide the right-side picker arm.

"It's a bit of a learning curve for the truck drivers," he said.

Making a mess

Grandin resident Barb Ferguson was upset that her organics cart was left well away from the curb with the lid up and a heap of waste left on the street.

"I'm very irritated," said the 35-year-old mother, who said her household is on board with the new program.

"I'm just hoping that this isn't the level of service we can expect," she said.

The aim is for the trucks to place containers in roughly the same spot as they were left, Tompolski said, but there is no policy requiring lids to be down. He thinks that, as the city and private contractor both get used to the new program, open lids will become less common.

Common experience

Strathcona County had concerns about waste on the street during the early days of its program when it started in 2008 but an adjustment to the trucks' arms fixed the problem, said county spokesperson Jennifer Tames.

Back in Grandin, resident Edward Rushton, 60, is 100 per cent behind the program.

"Not everybody might agree with it but sometimes you've got to put your best foot forward and force the program onto people that maybe might not want to deal with it," he said.

Peter Demulder, 82, is also on board but said he's in the minority in his circle.

"They're not very enamoured. Generally speaking they're anti-this [program]," he said. "The average Joe like me can't see what they're saving."

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