Recycling citizens experience delays due to Public Works' truck trouble

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 17, 2013 

Experiencing delays in recycling pick-up? So is the Public Works Department.

Public Works Director Pat Biegler said Wednesday that citizens may have to wait periodically for their recycling to be picked up. The department is struggling with existing equipment which will be replaced once the new recycling center is opened in October.

"We are very often having to work Wednesdays and Saturdays to catch up. This week and last week have been especially bad because of the Independence Day holiday," Biegler said. "It's a problem that's going to continue to happen until we get the new recycling center opened."

Two problems affect recycling pick-up speed: trucks and man-power.

Trucks used by the department are showing their age, and slowing everyone else down in the process. Many of the trucks have trouble starting, and some have trouble picking-up or putting down objects.

Public Works will be replacing some of the older units when the new recycling center opens adjacent to Pine Grove Landfill, but until then the department is making do with continuous repair.

"We've started having the garage work on them at night so that they're hopefully ready to get on the road the following morning," Biegler said. "The average life of one of those trucks is seven years, and they're a good bit older than that."

Sorting makes up the other half of the problem. When Public Works isn't having mechanical issues, they still have to sort all recycling meant for pick-up. That sorting is still done manually by inmates. High volumes of recycling from neighborhoods can lead to delays.

"If a couple of the trucks don't want to open properly or empty properly, you can't just leave the rest of the street. And it takes a while to sort by hand," Biegler said. "So, citizens should just leave their recycling out. If we don't get it one day, we'll get it the next day."

Eight new trucks that have been ordered by the department at $225,000 a piece will replace the outdated equipment, Biegler said. Those trucks, along with any other equipment, are paid for through trash and recycling pick-up fees. Any additional money needed comes from the general fund generated by taxes.

"We're approaching a balanced budget but we haven't been able to achieve that yet," Biegler said. "What we're working toward is a fully self-sustainable integrated waste program."

A new sorting machine at the new recycling center will, the department hopes, eliminate the manual work and speed up the process.

"[The sorting machine is] going to be about four times the size of the existing one," Biegler said. "We are collecting glass, but it will need to be separate from the other materials."

Along with a new sorting machine, the department plans to furnish about 8,000 homes served by Public Works with 96-gallon recycling bins. Materials put into the recycling bins will be taken to the sorter where they will be dumped in and sorted onto a conveyor belt so that they can be recycled correctly.

Biegler hopes the bigger bins will not only ease the system, but encourage citizens to recycle more of their trash.

"We're going to be asking our citizens to recycle more," Biegler said. "We see about four percent of trash production recycled. We would like to see that up to 40 or 50 percent."

While the recycling center's opening is still about three months off, Biegler said Public Works is planning other projects to help citizens. One would be a composting program which would use a new grinder to mulch trees and limbs picked up by the city. This compost would be used to aid soil in troubled areas. It will also save the city money usually used to pay for trees and limbs to be ground up.

In another project, the department hopes to build a methane power plant which will use methane gathered at the landfill to power the recycling plant and the two prisons nearby.

"Currently the methane is burned off through a special process to not poison the water," Biegler said.

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