By Kevin Brady
Officials are asking for patience after thousands of complaints about the county’s new garbage collection system.
Residents say the automated service, which began Sept. 30, is inconsistent at best with some waiting weeks for recycling refuse to be picked up.
“We have had one recycling pickup since the new system started,” said Riverview’s Joann Marshall. “I know it’s a new system and I can see them not having everything correct but why didn’t they have a better plan before the changes? Everyone in our neighborhood is upset.”
They are not alone.
So far this month, the county has registered more than 6,000 complaints about the new service from districts 2 and 5, according to figures obtained by The Current. The districts, served by Progressive Waste Solutions, contain 102,000 homes and cover almost all of South County as well as parts of north Tampa.
Complaints totaled 1,819 in District 2, an area of 50,000 homes that includes Brandon south of State Road 60, parts of Riverview, Bloomingdale, FishHawk and eastern Tampa.
“We have new drivers driving new routes with new equipment,” said Kim Byer, manager of the county’s automated collection program who is overseeing the transition to automated collections. “We are asking the public to bear with us until we get the service back to the level they are used to. It’s a unique situation.”
Complaints are decreasing as drivers become more familiar with their routes and equipment, Byer said. “This week (the last week of October) we have received less than 1 percent complaints from a total of 262,000 residential units so it’s definitely trending down. We are trying to address all complaints within 24 hours and we appreciate the public’s patience.”
That patience is growing short on Oak Street in Riverview.
“Just having the cans sit out there all the time not only looks bad but it doesn’t smell too good either,” said Bryan Hurt of Paradise Cove, a community of waterfront homes just south of Riverview Drive, east of U.S. Highway 41. “I think we were just forgotten about.”
While the aesthetics of rows of clunky garbage cans lined up for weeks has raised some hackles, there is also concern the garbage will attract rats.
“We are on the water so rodents are an issue but this will just bring more out, so it’s also a sanitary and health issue.” Hurt said.
Understanding any new system will have kinks, Hurt said he would have been happy to bring the cans back inside “but no one called us to tell us when they would be coming. I know a lot of calls were made but no one seemed to take notice at the county. We could have taken the cans off the street if they had just informed us when they would be coming.”
The companies contracted to remove county garbage have until Nov. 28 to sort out the problems. After that, the county can impose financial penalties based on repeat complaints, Byers said.
Citing cost savings — $10 million a year — and increased safety for workers, the county rolled out 520,000 new garbage cans for more than 262,000 homes in August. The new 95-gallon garbage bins and 65-gallon recycle bins cost $25 million but will lead to lower garbage bills while maintaining two collections a week, according to county officials.
Bills are expected to decrease from $231.17 to $222.75 a year in 2014 as a result of cost savings, Byer said.
Echoing concerns of elderly residents across the county, Riverview’s Doris Barrilleaux said the 4-foot, 95-gallon garbage cans are too bulky for seniors and, in her case, not needed.
“My neighbor and I are in our 80s and we hate the large cans. She’s called twice trying to get them to change out to a smaller one but was told we will have to wait until after Jan. 1,” Barrilleaux said.
“We generally have a single or maybe two little plastic grocery bags per pickup and seldom even used our own small cans. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to spend all that money for something the public doesn’t even want. So many people have no place to store those gigantic containers. It’s ridiculous.”
The county has promised to swap larger cans for smaller bins for no charge between Jan. 15 and March 15, 2014 by calling your service provider.
Automated garbage collections won’t begin in Sun City Center and Kings Point until January 2014 thanks to an agreement the communities negotiated with the county last year. With many seasonal and elderly residents, county officials agreed that a January rollout with smaller, easier to maneuver 35-gallon bins made more sense for the area.
Confident teething problems with the new system will be overcome soon, county officials say homeowners can help by following some simple guidelines. Ensure all trash is inside the new cans and they are placed on the curb and three feet away from each other. If your house is missed on its designated day, officials still advise leaving the garbage out for next-day pickup.
If problems persist, call the county’s solid waste call center at (813) 272-5680.
Answers to questions about pickups and schedules can also be found at Waste Management’s website, https://www.wm.com.
Nine million Florida homes now have automated trash collection.