When you hear the words “garbage collection,” you might think of a truck rolling into the neighborhood and a couple of guys hopping off to pick up your waiting bin(s).
It turns out that the Omaha metro area is one of the last places in this country where trash is collected that way.
Omaha mayor Jean Stothert wrote in a March 2016 press release, “I feel like our current service is way outdated.”
Efforts to modernize have been underway for some time now, according to an email from Justin Vetsch, 30, the Omaha senior district manager for Waste Management. Waste Management is the company that handles the City of Omaha’s garbage collection services.
“Back in November of 2016, upon the city’s request, Waste Management implemented a pilot program which showcases what a modernized collection system would look like, with automated trucks and standardized 96-gallon carts for trash and recycle,” Vetsch says. “This pilot program will conclude in April. The feedback and comments that Waste Management has received from residents indicates the pilot area is going well.”
Mike Shrader, 57, is the owner/manager of Premier Waste Solutions, a private company servicing Sarpy County, northern Cass County, and western Douglas County. He has been in the waste-collection industry since 1975 and hopes the city’s new system works as well as it has for his company.
“The vast majority of municipalities across the country use some form of a carted system,” Shrader says. The old model of collection, in which employees rode on the back of the truck and picked up the trash, has not been viable since the 1990s. “It’s hard to find individuals who are willing to do that kind of work, week in, week out.”
The Shrader family, looking for a different model, was introduced to an automated pickup system in Arizona, in which the garbage trucks use mechanical arms to pick up 96-gallon carts. What used to be a two- or three-person job now only needs a driver, and the carts hold about three times as much waste as a residential garbage can and can be wheeled around instead of lifted.
With the exceptions of the city of Omaha, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Ralston, every other community in the area is what Shrader called a “carted community,” though there’s a pilot program underway now in Bellevue that is similar to the one in Omaha.
Overhauling the system is expensive, Shrader says, which is why it has not happened yet, but changing to this automated system brings with it a number of advantages.
“Not only is it more efficient for the hauler, in a sense of one-man crews, it’s also safer,” Shrader says. “When we look at the injuries across the nation … it’s usually the second or third person that’s on the truck.”
When everyone in the neighborhood has the same carts, Shrader and Vetsch say, it gives the neighborhoods a sense of uniformity.
“A modernized system would also include easy wheeling, and standardized covered carts with lids, which are more aesthetically pleasing to have lined down neighborhoods versus loose bags and individually selected cans,” Vetsch says.
If you have ever had your trash can tip over in a stiff wind, then you know it is a hassle to retrieve trash strewn about your curb and lawn.
“The lids are attached, and they’re on wheels,” Shrader says. “They do a better job of withstanding some of the wind.”
The carts will still fall if the wind is strong enough, but they have an easier time remaining upright, and the lids help make them more “critter-proof,” Shrader says.
Vetsch pointed out that having fewer trucks on the road is good for the environment as well.
“As part of the current pilot, Waste Management is collecting the recycling in 96-gallon carts every other week,” he says. “With recycling collection every other week, it reduces truck traffic in the city’s residential neighborhoods, along with reduced emissions from fewer vehicles.”
“Going with a cart system for the recycling is probably the bigger plus,” Shrader says. “Not only do you have a lid on your recycling cart, but you have the capacity of 95 gallons versus 18.”
“In most cases, the ability to have a cart with a lid for recycling dramatically improves recycling participation, as a household may be currently limited due to the recycling bin’s size,” Vetsch says.
The future of Omaha’s garbage collection has yet to be determined, of course. Like any new system, Vetsch says, there will probably be a sense of hesitation.
“I really hope this pilot program works for them,” Shrader says. “It’s like coming out of the Dark Ages.
“If the city would accept that program, I think they’re going to be very, very happy with that for a long, long time.”
Visit wasteline.org for more information.
This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.