Augusta’s transition to weekly garbage pickup hasn’t been an easy one for many customers. Perhaps no one, though, has found it as difficult as south Augusta resident Carol Bruce.
A serious car crash six years ago slowed Bruce down, but she stays active as a housekeeper to earn a meager living and stave off the pain from her injuries, she said.
Bruce, 72, had just become accustomed to the mandatory garbage collection added to her property tax bill in 2007, which she called “blackmail,” when he city changed her hauler and required residents seeking assisted pickup to show a doctor’s excuse.
“I don’t have a doctor; I don’t have medical care,” she said.
Bruce, who said she gives most of her recycling to a nearby school, could be exempt from the city’s garbage policy because her house is more than 300 feet from the road. Bruce said she prefers not to hire a small private hauler.
Those were just a couple of suggestions Augusta Commission members offered for Bruce’s predicament. She said another suggestion, that she visit a free medical clinic, was impossible because of her work schedule.
Bruce repeatedly called 311, the city’s customer service line. She said her garbage was emptied but the hauler left her can on her neighbor’s property, where it remains.
On Thursday, she awaited arrival by mail of a medical form, which she has 90 days to return with a physician’s signature.
The Augusta Chronicle continues to receive calls, e-mails and anonymous complaints about the trash change, as do commissioners and the 311 office; the office did not respond to a request for garbage call data.
Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson said complaints about missed pickups are decreasing but that the city continues to address issues with assisted collections, which he said are “not perfect.”
“It gets better every week,” Johnson said of the pickups. “I will put it at pretty good. I won’t put it as perfect, but I’ll put it at monumentally better than the first weeks.”
As the city tweaks the system, it creates a new onslaught of calls, such as when haulers recently picked up about 7,000 roll-off containers from National Hills and Summerville neighborhoods. Before the second truck with replacement containers with special radio frequency ID tags could arrive, the calls began.
Each commissioner has his own set of complaints from constituents.
Commissioner Marion Williams is not yet satisfied with the switch to weekly pickup, a decision the commission made last year – before Williams returned to office – under the premise that incentive-based recycling would limit a household’s garbage.
“The average household of three or more can’t make it like that,” he said. “Mark Johnson don’t understand; the inner city don’t do no recycling.”
Across Georgia, Macon, Savannah and Atlanta provide garbage and recycling pickup once a week, and Columbus offers it twice.
Williams also takes issue with the fact that several small, minority-owned haulers weren’t included in the solid-waste contract, despite being asked to bid by the city’s two prime contractors, Inland Service Corp. and Advanced Disposal. Two other small haulers were taken on under the contract.
Commissioner Donnie Smith said households in his west Augusta district had begun to praise the weekly plan, with the exception of four condominium complexes whose communal “pen” or other arrangement of garbage containers can’t be accessed by the new trucks.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle urged homeowners such as Bruce to take advantage of the exemption for households that are more than 200 feet from the road. Bruce, he said, could even request a smaller container for $80 less.
“I wouldn’t want to push a container down a 300-something-foot driveway,” Guilfoyle said.
It’s too late for the city to redo its waste collection contract. Inland, Advanced and the city have invested millions in trucks powered by compressed natural gas, including construction of a fueling station, Guilfoyle said.
“I explain to people that I was not for this, I did not vote for this, but we have it now,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “The contract has been signed; these companies have bought those trucks and there’s no way we can get out of this contract. Let’s take advantage of what we have.”
Lockett, an avid recycler, said complaints of maggots can be easily avoided by bagging and tying up food waste before placing it into the can.
“What you see hanging out of a garbage can, it’s cardboard, paper. All that stuff should have gone in the recycling bins,” he said.
Other issues the commissioners reported were cans left with their lids open or on their side.
“Those issues have been brought to (Johnson’s) attention and he has made the haulers aware of the concerns,” Commissioner Bill Fennoy said.
Johnson said ensuring every can was replaced with its lid closed was a tall order.
“One hundred percent of the lids will not close, because you’re using hydraulics and you’re using gravity,” he said.
The small cans, available to residents who request them at a discounted price, won’t be available before the city bills for garbage service this year, Johnson said.
“We actually have to have our charges to (the) tax commissioner by the first week in August,” he said. “We had to get through all of the other issues first.”
The smaller can is available for $232.88, less than the city’s stated annual rate of $310.50 for residents outside the pre-consolidation city limits. An extra garbage carn is listed for $124.20 per year.