By Kevin Kelley
The day after Earth Day was not a good one for the prospect of more recycling in Westlake.
Dozens of residents told City Council members April 24 that they did not want the municipality’s trash contractor to begin automated garbage collection.
Citing an online survey in which two-thirds of respondents said they want trash collection procedures to stay as they are, Mayor Dennis Clough indicated he would recommend against the start of automated collection.
The city’s current five-year contract with Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc. calls for automated collection of trash and recyclable materials to begin in August. However, the city has the option of continuing with the current collection method.
Under automated trash collection, all residents use uniform trash and recycling containers, the contents of which can be mechanically dumped into a garbage truck operated by a single worker. Residents would be supplied with a 96-gallon container for trash and a 65-gallon container for recyclable materials.
Communities that have implemented automated trash collection have reported a significant increase in recycling, which means less waste going to landfills. Westlake residents now place their recyclables in an 18-gallon container and plastic bags, which are left on the tree lawn for pickup. The automated container would have 3.5 times more space for recyclable materials.
Many of the residents at the April 24 council committee meeting seemed to have arrived with their minds already made up against switching to automated collection.
Service Director Paul Quinn began his presentation on automated collection by noting that some people are very passionate on the issue of solid waste collection.
“I’d like to thank you for leaving your pick axes at home,” Quinn joked.
One man could be heard responding, “We didn’t.”
The results of the voluntary online survey residents were invited to take indicated 64.77 percent of respondents want to continue the current collection procedures while 35.23 percent wanted to switch to automated collection.
Three main reasons were given by respondents for being against a switch. Many believed a switch would be a reduction of service. Others wanted to maintain the weekly collection of bulk items, such as furniture or large appliances. If a switch to automated collection is made, bulk collections would only be made on a monthly basis. Some residents expressed a fear they did not have sufficient room to store the larger automated containers.
Those supporting a switch said they welcomed the opportunity to recycle more. Others said they believed automated collection would stabilize trash collection costs for the city.
In communities that switched to automated collection, statistics showed that 75 percent of residents liked the service, 20 percent were indifferent and 5 percent still disapproved of automated collection, Quinn said.
Residents generally become accustomed to the new collection procedures in about three months, Quinn indicated, citing discussions with officials in communities that had transitioned to automated collection.
Trash contractors say automated collection is more efficient and economical, in part because it reduces workman’s compensation premiums. However, if Rumpke switched to automated collection in Westlake, the monthly cost per household will rise from $12.78 to $13.10. Quinn explained this increase reflects the costs of supplying two new containers to each household.
One resident said the cost factor alone is enough of a reason to keep things the way they are. “Why pay more?” he asked.
Council President Mike Killeen said cost would be one factor in council’s final decision but not the only one.
Other residents said the containers to be used in automated collection were too large and unwieldy.
“That is too big of a can for people, particularly older people,” one 72-year-old woman said, referring to sample containers present that night in the council chambers and now in the lobby of City Hall.
One man complained that it would become “a part-time job” to separate one’s waste into trash and recyclable materials. He also seemed aghast that he would have to maintain two containers – one for trash and one for recyclables – in his house.
A few residents spoke in favor of automation and an increase in recycling. One man said friends who live in cities where automated collection take place have no complaints. “They said they’d never go back to the old system,” he said.
Clough said he would not push for automated collection given that the survey results indicated strong opposition. However, he warned that the issue would come up every time the trash contract is up for bid. While a switch to automated collection this summer would cost more, Clough noted the expectation had been that it would be lower.
Clough also told residents that the more people know about the automated collection process, the fewer the objections.
The mayor and council president each emphasized that the city has no plans to begin charging residents a fee for trash collection.
Killeen said the city should “reinvigorate” its recycling efforts if, as seems almost certain, the city continues with its current collection method. Clough urged residents to call the city’s service department to obtain the most recent brochure on recycling. Residents who either lost their 18-gallon recycling containers or moved into town after they were last distributed can call the service department to obtain one, the mayor said.