February’s winter storms froze vegetation across Dallas, which caused households to throw out a lot of brush and bulk trash. That caused delays in pickup of said brush and bulk trash, which caused piles of brush and bulk trash to sit by the curb in your neighborhood for weeks, rather than a few days.
But Dallas’ problems with picking up that kind of oversized refuse go beyond the occasional weather-related delay. Here are some charts presented to the City Council today by Tim Oliver, the interim director of sanitation services. The red is bad. In April of this year, brush and bulk trash — meaning furniture and other oversized garbage — pickup was delayed by up to 40 days.
There are a few culprits here, according to the city. There is a labor shortage. Some of it is attributable to city salaries lagging behind what a sanitation truck driver can make in the private sector. According to data presented at today’s meeting, starting pay for a city truck driver is $16.50 an hour. In the private sector, a comparable job would start at $18 to $20 an hour, with the opportunity to eventually make up to $30 an hour.
There are issues with compliance and predictability, said Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata. Most people only use the bulk trash service a few times a year, but there are “chronic users” who can overload the system. And then there are the unpredictable weather events that really throw a wrench in the works: Consider the delays in the spring and summer of 2019, when high winds knocked down trees across the region.
But even under the best circumstances, when crews are on schedule, brush and bulk trash can sit by the curb for as many as 10 days before it’s picked up, Oliver told council members. That’s partly due to the way the service is structured, and it’s why the city is considering making changes to how brush and bulk trash pickup works.
Right now a home in the city of Dallas can expect crews to pick up garbage once a week, with brush and bulk trash pickup once a month. Alternatives being weighed could see crews alternate each month: They’d come get the bulky waste one month, and the brush the next month. That would make it easier to divert the “green waste material” (brush) and prevent a bunch of organic waste from piling up in the landfill when it can be composted. Another possible alternative would have brush picked up monthly, with bulk trash being picked up on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. This would fit the way most people use the service, according to the city. How often are most of us throwing out old couches, anyway?
The problem, as at least one City Council member observed, is that people hate change. And people get fired up about what is or (as is often the case) isn’t happening with their trash. Especially their big trash. But right now, bulk trash pickup is broken. And the city knows it needs to fix it.