It’s trash talk of a different kind.
Garbage — where the cans are kept, how long they can sit in the hot sun without developing an offensive smell and how much waste will pile up before being collected — is all the rage in the unincorporated neighborhoods of Palm Beach County.
Residents in these communities are facing a change in trash pickup from twice a week to once a week and have turned to analyzing — if not outright opposing — every detail of what is otherwise a routine public service.
“What is WRONG with you people?” Laurel and David Wolf, who live west of Jupiter, wrote in an email to the Palm Beach County Commission. “The horrendous problems that going to a ONCE a week garbage pickup would create, are mind-boggling!!!”
Wrote Stephanie Dunn of Jupiter Farms: “I can tell you that with this heat and the humidity what happens to that sitting trash is beyond disgusting.”
But not everyone has had a negative reaction.
Christina Tarr, who lives west of Jupiter, told commissioners the current collection system is out of date and thinks a change would allow for more competitive pricing for haulers and taxpayers.
Brett Sorge of West Palm Beach said SWA should offer one rate for one day pickup and another for twice a week pickup.
The commissioners sitting as the Solid Waste Authority board are expected to vote on the proposed pickup change at the Aug. 29 meeting as part of a new garbage hauling contract that would start Oct. 1, 2019. The change is being proposed as a way to “soften” an increase in hauling rates that the SWA has seen roll across the state, said Willie Puz, SWA spokesman.
Commissioners will also vote on a switch to automated/semi-automated garbage trucks and having haulers work five days a week instead of six, which would cut Saturday service. They’d make an exception on trash pickup for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If the changes are approved, the SWA plans an information outreach program that would go over exact details — still to be worked out — for the new collection schedule.
The SWA says that, with an automated/semi-automated collection, residents would be given a rollable 96-gallon trash container.
That, too, could be controversial.
Wendy Bartos, who lives in Valencia Isles west of Boynton Beach, said her HOA doesn’t allow garbage cans to be stored on the side of the house. So Bartos, like many others, keeps the cans in the garage. The 96-gallon container, she said, is too big to fit in there with two cars.
“If we get that large can we’re going to have to take a car out every time we have to take the can out,” said Bartos, 75.
Expect more debate. The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, an organization representing more than 100 residential communities west of Boynton, will take up the topic at its Aug. 13 board meeting. They’ll take an official stance on the proposed changes for the county commissioners to consider, said the association’s president, Phil Barlage.
SWA presented options to county commissioners at the July board meeting amid a discussion on new standards to increase the number of solid waste contracts awarded to firms owned by women and minorities. That discussion sparked tension, and initial public comment on changes to garbage pick-up schedule has been passionate, too.
Even if trash collection changes, recyclables would still be placed in the blue and yellow recycle bins and bulk items would be placed at the curb once a week, Puz said. He said details are still to be worked out but if approved, all collections should be on the same day and most likely all recyclables and yard waste would be collected in separate trucks.
Yard waste could be changed as well. SWA is proposing allowing only three cubic yards of yard waste collection per week instead of six cubic yards, a change that concerns residents in more rural communities.
“Living in Jupiter Farms with close to two acres and I believe I counted 60 trees, 35 which are palm trees, the yard waste is just never-ending,” said resident Hal Steele. “Rarely do I put out just six cubic yards. It takes at least several weeks to pick up what we routinely clean out so if that was cut in half I don’t think I would ever not have a pile in the front of my yard.”
Steele, 63, said picking up trash once a week is a “no-brainer” if it saves money but the yard waste change is “a killer.”
He said residents won’t diminish the amount of cleanup they do just because the allowed amount of collection is changing.
“I’m not going to stop cleaning my yard because they don’t pick it up as frequently,” he said.
The commissioners discussed charging residents $8 per extra cubic yard to be picked up. The commission also discussed keeping the six cubic yard limit in areas that need it and decreasing it to three cubic yards in areas that don’t.
If the SWA were to keep the level of service as is, rates would be higher, Puz said. The range for potential rate increases would come out once companies bid on the SWA contract.
The hauling companies said nixing Saturday pickup would allow for employees to spend more time with their family. They said they have trouble attracting workers because of the six-day work-week. The cut would also relieve residents of being woken up by the garbage truck early Saturday morning.
Having automated and semi-automated trucks would improve safety and diversify hires because the jobs wouldn’t be as physically demanding as they are now, the haulers said.
The changes would affect residents of about 286,000 properties, but only those who don’t have dumpster-type containers. As it is now, residents can use any garbage can between 32 gallons and 50 gallons or put trash in a bag as long as it weighs less than 50 pounds, Puz said. If the change passes, residents would get the first 96-gallon garbage can for free. If they need a second garbage can, they would have to pay for it. The SWA expects one can to cost between $50 and $70.
Other unincorporated parts of counties across the state already pick up trash only once a week: Escambia, Indian River, Lee and Orange, Puz said.
But it would be new in Palm Beach County.
Unincorporated Palm Beach County is far behind the county’s municipalities in the level of truck modernization.
Belle Glade, parts of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter Inlet Colony, Lake Worth, Riviera Beach, Wellington and West Palm Beach, among others, already use automated/semi-automated systems. Loxahatchee Groves and Lantana also plan to switch, too, Puz said.
Automated trucks are equipped with a lifting mechanism controlled by the operator inside the cab that extends, lifts the cart, empties the cart into the truck, and places the cart back on the curb. Only one worker is required on the truck and that person stays in the driver’s seat.
With semi-automatic service, the truck has two mechanical cart-tipping devices. An employee rolls the container to the tipping device that lifts the cart and empties it into the back of the truck. The employee then rolls the cart back to the curb. The hauler can remove additional garbage placed outside the cart and bulk items. Two workers are usually required on the truck.
Without this automated/semi-automated system, collection requires two employees on the truck: a driver and a helper. The helper physically loads the canned or bagged garbage into the back of the rear-load truck.
Valerie Rozzo, who lives in Palm Beach Country Estates, said in an email to commissioners that while she’d like to maintain the two-day trash pickup, she’d welcome this scenario: Cut garbage collection to once a week if necessary, but use part of the cost savings to increase the volume and frequency of yard waste collection.