Since June 3, Augusta’s new system of collecting garbage has generated thousands of complaints from residents. For the first time, mandatory garbage, recycling, yard and other waste collections were required throughout the county, except in Hephzibah and Blythe. And trash is picked up only once a week.
But now, Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson says things are working better and people are happier. For example, 3,000 new recycling carts have been delivered and residents have grown accustomed to once-weekly pickup instead of two times each week, he said.
Last week, The Augusta Chronicle asked Johnson five questions about the garbage system. Johnson responded by email. Here are his answers, edited for length:
Q: Have complaints decreased?
A: Yes, complaints as well as requests for information have decreased significantly. If you look at total calls to 311 (our new consolidated customer service line) the average number of calls in the first week of the service change was 1,585 calls per day, and in the last full week of July, 311 is averaging 519 calls per day.
Q: What is generating the most complaints right now, and what are you trying to do about it?
A: The most complaints now stem from customers who have experienced a repeated service issue. Most of those revolve around our “Assisted Collections” customers. We have new haulers and drivers servicing areas they have never been in before, and Assisted Collections do place their carts to the road. Initially, we tried to provide service very quickly by sending a supervisor or a miss truck back to get that customer. This provided the customer a faster response, however, the normal driver did not learn from his error, and we ultimately missed the customer again. We have now updated our Assisted Collections lists, the haulers have access to print those lists for each driver, and in certain instances we are sending county staff or hauler supervisors back to inspect what we expected.
Q: If you could start the new service over again, what’s one thing you would do differently?
A: I can’t limit my answer to just one, there are many things we would do differently.
• As far as the service level is concerned, we should not have removed tire collection from the base service. We removed tires from our curbside service and transitioned it to a monthly drop off event. This does not work in all parts of our community.
Looking back at exchanging old contractor carts to the new Augusta carts was a key item which could have been better. We should have had one contractor perform both the new deliveries as well as remove the old carts…
Customer education – we focused our efforts on direct mail and driving people to the web. Looking back, we needed to be much more specific in our message, and use additional communication methods to get the word out about the new program.
Q: What is one thing the public could do to help make trash pickup go more smoothly?
A: Start recycling. All a customer needs to do is call 311 and ask for a recycling bin and we will deliver it. Recycling does not cost any extra, and it will reduce the amount of garbage that you are trying to get rid of.
Place the carts out for collection properly. Place it to the curb prior to 7 a.m., with the handles facing the house. The cart needs three feet of clearance on all sides for our automated trucks to dump them.
Q: Why aren’t garbage container lids flipped closed after trash is emptied?
A: Our contractors are now using automated trucks for all garbage and recycling cart collections. This uses a robotic arm to dump the carts. As a result, you do not have a human hand touching each cart to ensure the lids are closed. Cart lids have a better chance of getting closed if the handles are facing the house. Unfortunately, not every cart lid will get closed every time.