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Page last updated on March 7, 2019 at 9:38 am

The role of government has been described by some in a simple phrase: "Pick Important Problems. Fix Them."

Our sanitation System, a key part of fundamental public services, protects the health, safety and quality of life of our community. The status quo isn't working well.

I want to be clear that the challenges we face have nothing to do with our workforce, which is exceptional and hard working and dedicated. It has to do with the equipment and tools they have to use, and the systems designed for the sanitation program.

Current problems are derived from the fact that we are operating an outdated system with antiquated equipment that has not been replaced and updated. The result is serious human cost, in injuries and workers compensation claims. And inefficiencies.

We're here to outline fixes to these problems. I want to thank Adam Wason, director of Public Works, Shelby Walker, our Sanitation Director, Vic Kelson, Director of the City of Bloomington Utilities and Michelle Waldon the CBU Finance Manager here today, and a shout out to Thomas Uher, an IU SPEA grad student who gave special help in the process.

With proposals we're announcing today, we aim to protect our workforce, modernize our equipment, improve the experience for our residents, and continue to protect our environment.

Our trucks are antiquated. I plan to replace four trucks in the coming year. And propose a phasing in of automated and semi-automated trucks, so our workforce aren't relying on brute force to lift thousands of pounds of trash and recycling, but using modern equipment. (so we'll also add new 'tippers' even to the existing old trucks, doing some modest retrofitting so manual lifting can be essentially eliminated)

We'll need uniform 'carts' or receptacles, in order to make this system work, so I will be asking city council also to approve the purchase of 32,000 carts - two per household we serve - so we can provide them to our residents and implement the automated lifting with the new and retro-fitted trucks. Each household will receive a recycling cart and a trash cart provided by the Sanitation Department. (By the way, we plan to have a system to help homeowners recycle any old trash and recycling receptacles they wish to get rid of.)

We plan to have billing for the solid waste pick up be included with the water utility bill that each resident has, to eliminate the sticker system altogether and make the payment system more efficient.

With this plan we aren't charging residents additional costs in the aggregate, and will retain the volume-pricing incentives, with different size carts available for the solid waste. Each household will be provided with a large cart for recycling (95 gallons), and a smaller cart for solid waste (35 gallons). If a household wants a larger solid waste cart, there will be an upcharge.

I'll note as well that the new technology will possibly allow us in the future to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID tags) and weighing equipment to measure and charge solid waste based on weight. This is an issue to be explored over the next several months.

In summary, this proposal will allow several improvements:

  • A more efficient system
  • Fewer workforce injuries
  • Weekly recycling pick up (instead of biweekly)
  • Smart city data collection and use
  • Elimination of the sticker system, replaced with utility bill payments

The customer experience will be improved, with no need to purchase stickers, with now weekly single stream recycling pick up, and with convenient, heavy duty rolling carts. Our treatment of yard waste, leaf pickups, and large item pickups will remain unchanged, under current plans. (with exception that no stickers will be used.)

Our plan is to implement the system with new carts and the phasing in of the new trucks beginning next summer.

I'm announcing some significant changes planned today. But in a real sense we are beginning the pilot and phase-in process. There still are quite a few things to be determined:

  • Exact model of trucks - will demo several over next 6-9 months
  • Exact timing of truck replacement - will purchase 4 in 2017, and then plan 2 per year for next 3 years, but flexible
  • Smart city possibilities, including RFID pay-per-pound solid waste approach - weighing each household trash with pricing based on weight
  • Exact ratio of full automatic truck versus semi-automatic, depending on experience
  • Color of the carts

We will look forward to continued collaboration with the city council and appropriate advisory bodies, as well as the public at large, to determine these matters, in the months ahead.

I also want to note explicitly that although fully automatic trucks require only one operator, compared with three staffing each current truck, we expect all our current sanitation employees to continue with city employment.

Additional information is available on the city website, including financials, an outline of the issues I've discussed today, and Frequently Asked Questions. As a special treat, we have a video demonstration of some of this equipment, which will be play by play commentary by Adam Wason. Thanks Adam.