Houston County, Ala., hopes to streamline garbage collection. Beginning in 2014, the county will undergo a 60- to 90-day trial period of an automated trash collection system, similar to that of nearby Dothan, Ala., which includes the purchase of one automated sanitation truck and a few thousand bins. The plan is that the entire sanitation fleet can be transitioned by 2015 if all goes well with the initial trial route.
The county will spend more than $450,000 for trucks and bins, in addition to providing one 95-pound bin per household, initially. According to Bill Dempsey, Houston County chief administrative officer, the benefits are focused on reduced labor and workers’ compensation claims.
“In an automated truck you only need one driver as opposed to a traditional truck, which requires a driver and two loaders,” he said. “Additionally, sanitation workers’ compensation makes up 50 to 60 percent of all workers comp claims due to a variety of job-related hazards, such as physical strains and injuries to being jabbed with needles or having contact with harmful substances. We had one instance where a loader was sprayed with acid when the trash was compressing.”
Houston County doesn’t foresee any negative issues from this switch. “The city of Dothan has been using these for years, and everybody seems happy with it,” said Dempsey. He feels fortunate that the county and city have a good relationship and work closely together. “Dothan has enough experience to know which pieces of equipment to buy and what manufacturers to use. They are a great resource for us,” he said.
Cassandra Milton, who works for Dothan, noted that the use of automated trash collection has had a favorable response there “There are cost benefits as well as other things, such as fewer dogs getting in the trash because the carts are sturdy and hard to knock over.”
Milton said the city uses the garbage carts everywhere except in areas where there are handicap or elderly residents. “Some cannot handle the garbage carts because they are too large and heavy for them.” She also noted that the automated trucks do not pick up garbage left on the side of the road.
Dothan did not lay off workers when they switched to an automated system, opting instead to not filled some positions as people have retired.
“We’ve done a lot of research, met with Dothan, we’ve had experience in headland and talked with some others about the system, the way it works, the things to do, the things not to do and we believe we are ready to move forward with it,” said Houston County Commissioner Chairman Mark Culver.
Culver added that the county will be able to eliminate about 10 positions through attrition if it switches to automated pickup, which would save the county about $400,000 per year.
“In talking with the city of Dothan, we know that education is going to be important. Bins are going to have to be set in a certain way on one side of the road, things like that. Folks normally don’t like change, but once you get past the initial shock, it has been received positively from what I understand.”
The county is committed to working with residents who are concerned about the size of the new cans. “If it’s a senior citizen that can’t handle these bigger cans, we talked about possibly giving them smaller cans or working with them in some way,” he said.