Automated trash pickup might be headed to Cape Girardeau

Monday, July 27, 2009
City employee Steve Barry empties a bin onto a conveyor belt to be compacted into a bail of plastic Friday at the Cape Girardeau Recycle Center. All types of recyclables except for glass will be compacted together and sorted elsewhere in a proposed change to the recycling and trash program. (Kit Doyle)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that trash collection serves 11,000 households, instead of 22,000.

A proposal from the Cape Girardeau Public Works Department could send garbage trucks with automated arms to collect trash in residential neighborhoods.

Residential trash pickup takes place at every home and every apartment building with three or fewer units, and Cape Girardeau collects trash from about 11,000 residences. The city permits each residence to place two 35-gallon trash cans, purchased at their own expense, on the curb on trash day. Recyclables must be separated by type and put out on a different day.

Tim Gramling, the city's public works director, made a presentation to the city council July 20 concerning a possible switch to automated trash pickup. He told the council that using trucks with mechanical arms that lift bins from the sidewalk and deposit the trash into a compacting truck could reduce injuries and save money in the $3.3 million solid waste budget.

Gramling said the change would not require another increase in fees, which went up 5 percent this year to $16.75 per month. The goal, he said, is to modernize the system, make it better and add to the system's capacity.

City employee Rob Reed helps empty a compacted container of plastic Friday from a collection truck at the Recycle Center in Cape Girardeau. A new trash and recycling program would no longer require recyclables to be separated, except for glass. (Kit Doyle)

The city would provide each resident with a 65-gallon bin for trash and a 95-gallon bin for recyclables. Mike Tripp, solid waste supervisor, said both bins have wheels, an attached lid and a sturdy bottom. Tripp said the heavy-duty containers would help limit some of the complaints about lids being thrown in neighbors' yards or trash cans rolling in the street.

"It won't change what you would normally do with your trash. Still follow all the same guidelines, the only difference is that you will have one trash can placed at the curb."

Recyclables, however, will have a different set of guidelines. Tripp said the automated trash pickup would allow for single-stream recycling. All recyclables, with the exception of glass, could be mixed.

Glass needs to be separated to keep broken pieces from contaminating other recyclable materials such as newspaper and cardboard. Tripp said glass could be brought to the drop-off facility.

"We're probably one of the only communities in Missouri anymore that are doing the sorting. With single-stream recycling, more people participate because they can put everything in one container and be done," he said.

City employee Jacks Yarbrough drives a bail of plastic recyclables onto a scale Friday at the Cape Girardeau Recycle Center. A new plan is expected to save the city money on landfill costs because studies show more people recycle when items do not need to be separated. Only glass would need to be kept separate under a new proposal. (Kit Doyle)

In addition to boosting recycling, Tripp said automated trash pickup has been credited with saving money. The trash bins are dumped into the truck without the aid of a sanitation worker.

"Basically you have one person that drives the truck. He stays in the driver's seat and operates everything from there," Tripp said.

Ward 5 Councilman Mark Lanzotti said allowing for only one driver on every truck, instead of a two-person crew, would save the city money.

"It increases efficiency because a single operator runs the whole show," Lanzotti said. "It's an efficiency argument because you need fewer employees to do the same work."

Tripp said the change means cutting four jobs.

The city spends $1.2 million on residential trash pickup each year. Fees from residential customers generate $2.1 million. Eliminating four solid waste jobs at the low end of the pay scale would save up $84,000 to $128,000 in salaries alone, according to the city budget.

The overall savings would allow the trash utility "to pay back an existing debt of the solid waste fund to the general revenue fund," Gramling told the council. That debt is about $200,000.

On the safety front, automated trucks decrease the amount of physical labor sanitation workers have to do, such as lugging trash cans to and from the truck. Now, workers are subject to injuries, such as cuts and back problems.

The residential waste disposal budget includes $188,965 for capital expenses, which includes the replacement of equipment. The city would purchase the automated trucks, which would be used for both trash and recycling pickups. Tripp said not only are the automated trucks more efficient, the lives of those vehicles are longer.

The average life of a garbage truck is seven years, he said. The trucks being considered are expected to last 10 years, he said.

Tripp said the council is seeking more suggestions about glass disposal and the containers' color. He said the proposal will be discussed at upcoming council meetings.

"Our goal is to be automated by the first of the year, but that's up in the air yet," he said.

Pertinent address:

2007 Southern Expressway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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