Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Is Janesville's new trash system hitting benchmarks?

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Greg Peck
Friday, November 22, 2013

The city of Janesville's automated trash recycling program has been in full swing for more than six months already. The system uses new trucks with robotic arms that grab and dump trash bins. It's time for a little Q&A update with John Whitcomb, city operations director.

Q: I see lots of residents who sit out their trash and recycling bins side by side, inches a part, instead of the three feet between that you requested to ease use of the robotic arms on the trucks. How big a problem is that?

A: This issue is diminishing over time, but is still “out there.” Placing carts too close to other fixed objects (mailboxes, trees) is a similar problem. Overall, though, the community is doing very well.

Q: Is that the biggest mistake people are making? If not, what is?

A: Placement of carts in proximity to fixed objects, as noted above.

Q: Have you gotten any complaints from the recycling company about inappropriate stuff people are putting in their bins? If so, what items?

A: Initially, yes, but that was expected. There is a “purge” that occurs in most programs at start-up, and we were no different in this regard. Right now, material quality is good.

Q: Is volume of trash less than or about what you projected, and is the volume of recyclables higher or about what you expected?

A: During our research, most communities achieved a 20-25 percent increase in the tons of recyclable materials collected when converting to automation. We planned for the low side of this range and have actually slightly exceeded 25 percent. So we're very pleased with this outcome.

Q: The city's November newsletter says you've reduced collection routes from 45 to 36. Is that about what you expected, or have you been able to cut more than that? Have any staff positions been cut as a result, and if so, how many?

A: When the program was proposed to the city council, we felt we could reduce our route number down to 35 per week. However, that assumed we would reconfigure our routes concurrent with the startup of automation. We opted to defer the reconfiguration of our routes until after we've had some experience with the program. So our routes are a bit out of balance at this point, and we're having to run the one additional route (the 36th route). But I'm confident we will attain the objective of 35 routes once they're reconfigured (planned for 2014).

When the program was proposed to the city council, we felt we could reduce staffing by two positions and also eliminate one collection vehicle from the fleet. We have eliminated the two positions through attrition and have also eliminated the truck from the fleet.

Q: Are drivers finishing their trash routes earlier than projected?

A: No.

Q: Hey, what do I do with that spent propane tank—about the size of a man's forearm—that can't be refilled and is from my portable grill? Do I put it in my recycling bin, my trash bin or try to find another way to recycle it?

A: You can actually buy a refill kit for the smaller propane tanks—it works off the larger tanks. So this is the best option—reuse. Otherwise, the tanks must be empty and can be taken to one of the recycling centers in town. Each may have their own way of handling these, so you should call ahead. There was a time when the valves had to be removed to demonstrate the tank was empty, but I think some companies may not require that now. As long as the tanks are empty, they can also be dropped of in the metal recycling bin at the landfill. Customers should “declare” they have a tank so it can be verified as being empty.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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