Thursday, March 5, 2015

Let's Talk Trash

Some of you might have heard this week that Council awarded J.P. Mascaro & Sons Norristown's next trash collection contract. They were the lowest bidder. One reason I can think of WHY they were the lowest bidder was their level of service in the last few years. In our alley, I've seen them mix recycling in with the regular on one more than one occasion, skip some trash entirely, and if they drop trash while dumping it in the truck, they leave it. Though, to their credit, if you call to complain, they send someone out to clean it up. But we shouldn't HAVE to call to complain.

This new contract is different in that Mascaro will provide two 64-gallon toters to each of 9,640 dwelling units in town. I'm hoping this means we're switching over to automated collection, in which hinged trash cans that are hooked up to the truck and emptied at the push of a button. If the lids are kept closed by the residents, animals can't get in so easily. I hope that means cleaner alleys and streets. If you need extra trash cans, homeowners will need to provide 2 35-gallon containers. It isn't clear if one of the toters is for recycling or not.

Mascaro let this pile sit for months.
Having observed the trash habits of some of our residents, I'm pretty sure these changes won't solve our problems. For one thing, I've observed all around town that people constantly disregard trash collection instructions. They put out large objects all the time without contacting Mascaro, who will just let them sit indefinitely. One house on my alley has had the shell of a huge TV sitting outside their garage since summer. The pile at the left was in the West End for months. Other neighbors always leave the lids off their cans so we have animal problems. Others leave their receptacles in the alley all week long. A big percentage of residents completely ignore recycling and put everything in the trash and even use recycling cans for trash. These behaviors aren't going to change without incentive.

Residents use borough receptacles in business districts.
I also have to wonder where a lot of us who live on small properties will store 2 huge rolling trash cans. This kind of receptacle was devised for use in the wide-open suburbs, where people have driveways that the toters can be rolled down. For our rowhouses that have streetside collection, trash cans usually have to be carried through the house and down steps. Even our little backyards pose storage challenges. You can't put trash cans close to your house or you'll have ant infestation. I think we may see people leaving their cans on the street or in the alley more often, or using borough litter receptacles.

About 9% of our population are over 65 years old and others have physical disabilities. That's more than 3000 residents who might not be able to handle a 64-gallon can. It would be nice if there was some special provision for them.

A large percentage of our residents live alone and don't produce that much trash. Today's the day I'm supposed to put my trash out. If I can do that in the snow, my little 20 gallon can won't be more than a third full.

Not picked up for weeks.
Then there's the question of the number of the dwelling units. The last census says we had 13,420 units in 2010. We've grown since them. Mascaro's contract covers 9,640 dwelling units and I'm not sure how that's defined. One of my brothers lives in a house with 3 apartments in the West End. The renters share 2 large trash cans, which works for them. So is that considered one dwelling unit or 3? Will Mascaro give them 6 toters? That seems like a waste of money (a 64-gallon toter isn't cheap, even at wholesale prices).

I guess I need to know more about the details, but this seems to me to be a very one-size-fits-all deal. In my other brother's neighborhood in Malvern, trash is automatically weighed and the residents charged accordingly. With an automated system you can do this. It's incentive for people to recycle and compost, and not put everything in the trash. Single residents who don't produce much trash don't end up paying more than their share. Big families and people who trash recyclables pay the brunt, which is how it should be.

Still, Crandall Jones says our trash fees will be coming down and the neighborhoods will look better. I'll believe it when I see it. 

1 comment:

  1. March 11, 2015

    Elena Santangelo
    Norristown Diary

    Re: Trash and Recycling Contract Award to J. P. Mascaro & Sons

    Dear Elena:

    My name is Sam Augustine and I am Director of Sales and Marketing for J. P. Mascaro & Sons and, as such, I oversee our company’s municipal bidding. I have been with the company for over 30 years and have been involved in every one of Norristown’s trash bids and contracts during that time.

    I wanted to clear up any confusion on the new contract that we will be starting on April 1, 2015. You are correct that there will be two (2) sixty-four (64) gallon toters, one for trash and one for recyclables. The toter for the recyclables will have a different color lid to distinguish it from the toter to be used for trash. In addition, every household will be able to put out two additional 35-gallon containers of trash. This will definitely help clean up Norristown. But you are right that our company, along with Norristown, will have to educate the residents on this new program. We plan to go to the elementary schools, community and civic groups to present an educational program on this new contract.

    As for items left at curbs, such as televisions and larger items, we are unable to collect electronic devices (TVs, stereos, microwaves, etc.), and by law they cannot go into a landfill. Homeowners have to make special arrangements to get those items collected. The best thing for homeowners to do is to take those items to big box stores (like Best Buy) that are required to accept them for recycling purposes. But when you see them at the curb, it is not because we missed collecting them, but rather residents are not following the proper procedures. In fact, the collection crew tags a TV (or other electronic device) every time it is put at curbside, informing the homeowner that we do not pick the item up and telling how and where they can dispose of the TV (or other electronic device).

    We also do not collect household clean-outs where residents clean out a garage or basement or when they move in or move out. Our current contract requires us to pick up four 35-gallon containers of trash per household. We don’t hold Norristown to the letter of that contract and often pick up five, six or seven containers. However, when the amount of trash placed at curbside is so voluminous that it is not just routine weekly-generated trash, we tag it with a note for the resident and they have to make special arrangements to have it removed at an additional price. Norristown Administration is aware of this as well, as we inform them if there are excessive amounts of trash put out by homeowners. So, when you see those large volumes of trash at the curb, again, it is not because we missed it, but rather that it is not our responsibility to collect.

    We also are not required to collect multi-unit establishments. When a house is converted into multiple apartments (more than four units), it is not considered a residential stop, and the owner is required to contract for separate service with a company of its choice. So, oftentimes when you see items left at curbside, it is not necessarily because we missed it or failed to pick it up, but rather because we are not supposed to pick it up for the reasons above.

    I hope this clears up any confusion. The Administration and Council worked very hard on this new program that is to take effect April 1st and we are confident that, together with a properly rolled out educational program, it will be a success, especially since under the new contract, there is a recycling incentive program where all residents will benefit by increased recycling. More information on that will be supplied to each household later this month.

    Thank you for your interest in Norristown’s contract.


    Samuel J. Augustine