In 1997, Erie, Pa., started a single large item program, which allowed residents to discard large furniture items — broken tables, old couches, etc. — with their normal household trash.
Years later, in May 2018, the city began a three-month large item pickup pilot program that went very well.
“It has been very successful,” said Mayor Joe Schember. “We now do it year-round, and I think it’s much better for the residents because they don’t have to hold things for a certain time every year. It’s also easier for our refuse department because we would collect it four weeks every April and that cost us about $125,000 in additional pay for employees to do that. It has probably saved us at least three-quarters of that amount in expense because now the collectors don’t have to work overtime; they do it just as part of their pickup routine. We limit the number so it can be done in an eight-hour day. The residents like it because they don’t have to hold onto these items and it saves the city taxpayers’ money.”
Schember recommended that other municipalities take a look at implementing such a program in their own areas.
“I definitely encourage other cities to investigate the benefits of this program,” said Schember, who decided to continue the pilot permanently.
“There was only one problem that we had, and that problem was the April after it was tested and then implemented; a lot of people put stuff out without calling because that’s what they were used to doing. Another problem that this solved was during the four weeks when people were allowed to put out one large item, some residents filled their yards with items, and that was a recurring problem every year prior to when we implemented the year-round opportunity; so that first April after we implemented it, the problem did recur again, but by the second April, everyone was used to the new system so that obstacle went away.”
Kevin Jenison, communication manager of Muscatine, Iowa, began a new program in lieu of past spring pickups. Now, no more unsightly curb items sit out along with the garbage collections.
“The bulky waste curbside collection has been very successful,” said Jenison. “We launched the program in February expecting to schedule no more than 20 pickups a day. We did have problems at first with people putting out items without scheduling and ‘pickers’ going through and littering material around that made it dangerous for our staff, but that has calmed down significantly. In fact, we have waived the limitations for scheduling pickups — you can now schedule as many as you want as far out as you want to meet the residents’ needs — and increased the number of collections per day to 40. At the present time, the program has become so popular that we are currently scheduling collections two to three weeks out as earlier collection days are full.”
Jenison said he began the city’s promotion with a press release and social media posts while placing a link predominantly on the front page of the city of Muscatine’s website.
“We update the statistics from the collection program and remind residents of the collection rules through a combination of social media and press releases as needed,” said Jenison. “I believe the success of the program in replacing spring cleanup week has a lot to do with the customer service ability of our staff and word of mouth.”
Doing all this is difficult enough, but when COVID-19 hit, the city’s woes increased.
“When the government asked those who could stay home to help slow the spread of the virus, an opportunity was created for the residents to ‘clean house,’” observed Jenison. “Those working from home and those who were displaced by business closures found time to finally get around to cleaning out the garage, basement, attic or other parts of the household. This created an increased demand for the service, and that demand was instrumental in increasing the number of collections per day and eliminating the limits on how far out a resident can schedule one or more multiple pickups.”
Residents were asked to call the refuse collection department two days before their regular collection day to schedule a curbside bulk waste pickup and leave a message with their name and number. A staff member would return the call and confirm a time
for collection, with the city scheduling 20 bulky waste collections per day. Pile size cannot exceed 10 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet and items must be set out by 5 a.m. the day of pickup but not before 4 p.m. the day before collection, according to Jenison.
“As far as useful items, we have seen a lot of furniture that just needs a little loving to be made functional or repurposed,” said Jenison. “One of the ideas that the staff is working on is taking those items that we collect that just need a little repair and have an area set up where people can come look over the items to see if they wanted to take them and repurpose them. The other thought would be to collect the less-damaged and more-repairable items and donate them to an organization or a shop that could fix them for people in need of furniture.
But he added, “Those plans are still being developed.”
Residents are happy to know that this is a free service the town is offering.
“Originally, residents who have refuse collection service through the city of Muscatine were offered three free bulky waste collections per calendar year,” said Jenison. “It was determined to keep this service free of charge to those who already are being charged for refuse collection as we expanded it to throughout the year. “Area residents still have the option to take bulky waste to the transfer station, but the minimum tipping fee is $7 per load. So many residents are opting to schedule a free pickup instead of taking the material to the transfer station.”