Just in time for "national Garbage Man Day," trash collectors were accused of damaging trash cans, others were licking their wounds over a 1919 ordinance that mandates free trash pickup for only 60 percent of the people, and experts pondered how much of the 80 percent of recyclables San Diego has been shipping overseas might now end up in local landfills.
Becky Porter of Bay Park had another trash can destroyed in late May. "The worker grabbed the can securely with those powerful truck mounted arms. A second later, he grabbed it again with the arms tighter." That second time, she saw her trash can cave. While it's not the first time she's seen her trash can destroyed, it's the first time she has witnessed it as it happened.
This time around, Porter is opting to repair her trash can versus buying a new one from the city. The city charges $70 (pro-rated if within warranty), plus $25 for delivery. Manual trash service for 45 days is available if there are delays in delivering a new can.
Porter didn't report the incident for fear of retaliation. She said since someone else filed a similar complaint, they've had their trash either not picked up or strewn everywhere.
On June 13, I just missed seeing Porter's trash collected as they came earlier than expected.
On my travels seeking a trash truck to observe, one Bay Ho resident at Eichenlaub and Raffee said, "I've been here for thirty years and have an old old trash can. They've never broken mine but they are rough with them and always in a big hurry."
I saw some creative repairs, including on Jellett Street where one consisted of a plank and metal. Norm said he made that repair on a trash can more than 15 years old. Norm's neighbor showed me his can repaired with metal and duct tape. He said it was only a few years old when it broke. Next to that was another can missing a huge chunk out of the lid. He said it was less than two years old, but it might be out of warranty based on the number (T92).
I saw a trash truck speeding down Burgener Boulevard but wasn't able to catch up to it. I followed one that turned onto July Street. From afar, it appeared rough and tumble as the cans were lifted and set down with the automated arm, though no cans were damaged or left out of place in the twenty to thirty minutes I observed.
Once I got close enough to take photos, the trash collector appeared to lift and lower the cans more gently.
After pickup, some streets had cans in neat rows while others were a bit more haphazard, but nothing egregious.
Back on Burgener, I saw a greenery trash truck with a worker dumping cans by hand.
After having three city trash cans broken in seven years, Thomas Freese of Bay Park picked up a Toter-brand can at a local home improvement store. "I haven't had this one long yet [a few months] but it appears to be better quality."
Freese made his choice after noticing neighbors with Toter cans didn't have the same issues as those with city-issued cans. "Many have been taped, bolted with metal and screws, riveted, glued; you name it, I've seen it."
A couple Bay Park residents complained that after purchasing a Home Depot trash can, trash collectors refused to pick up their trash.
A local Home Depot clerk told me the city-approved can is a Toter 48-gallon for $159.07. Per the city, approved cans are made by Rehrig Pacific or Toter, 64/65 or 96-gallon, and look like the standard black wheeled trash carts used by the city for automated trash collection. Home Depot had the Toter 64- and 96-gallon cans online ($84 — $194).
The city-issued cans are made by Rehrig Pacific. The city confirmed no changes have been made to the type of container used since the mid-1990s when automated collection started.
Rehrig Pacific offers a 10-year non-prorated warranty on their website. The city offers a pro-rated warranty. Per the city, "Less than 1.2-percent of containers are replaced within the 10-year warranty period."
The other city-approved vendor, Toter, offers a 12-year warranty that doesn't cover damage by incorrectly operated automated trash collection trucks.
The city's current system doesn't track damaged trash cans but a new system, operational later this summer, will track that. Per the city, 15,218 trash cans were sold in FY 2017 (ending June 30, 2017).
Per the city, damage is happening because the average age of city-issued containers is approximately 13 years; near 68 percent over ten years old.
I called several county municipalities to find out if they have similar complaints. One environmental analyst agreed to talk frankly as long as her name and the city she works for weren't mentioned.
She said that complaints about damaged trash cans are "very rare" but could be on account of cans being replaced free-of-charge. Though, residents in her city do pay for trash service. "The city of San Diego is the only one that doesn't charge for trash service, but does for the cans."
She said most other cities use outside contractors for curbside trash service. The big three appear to be EDCO, Waste Management, and Republic Waste.
She understands why residents want automatically to blame the city, since they have to pay for the replacement cans. She said any receptacles damaged by city workers should be replaced by the city but that cans get damaged for all sorts of reasons, such as "people sneaking in heavy stuff like concrete" they don't want to pay to dump.
Before 2008, there were few complaints about San Diego trash cans getting damaged. Complaints seem to have kicked in once the city returned to its pre-1994 policy of residents being responsible for paying for trash cans. The impetus for this 2008 change was declining tax revenue during the financial crisis. Every resident I asked said damage to trash cans rose five to ten years ago.
Are city of San Diego sanctioned cans comparable to other cities? "Yes, they are comparable and two of the big three that mostly are used."
She understands why people think the automated collection trash trucks are doing damage. "It can appear violent but those trash cans are meant to be handled thousands of times and last many years."
A former Bay Park resident that now lives in Coronado said she has not had, nor heard about, any trash cans getting damaged in Coronado.
I called the city of Coronado and was told they use EDCO. The latter offers containers similar to the city of San Diego. Their 32-gallon trash can holds 50 pounds. Extrapolated out, their 96-gallon may perhaps hold 150 pounds.
Waste Management lists their 96-gallon trash can as handling a maximum of 200 pounds.
The city of San Diego asks residents to keep it under 300 pounds. Other tips to prolong the life of cans are to avoid setting them out half-full. A fuller container provides better resistance for the automated arms, thus lessening the likelihood of cracking over time.
No one I spoke with had video evidence of a trash collector destroying their can. A 2015 video shows an automated arm crushing a can with injuries similar to some cans I saw.
In 2017, the city council voted unanimously to keep the 2008 policy that residents pay for trash cans. This decision came on the heels of a grand jury report stating complaints of city trucks damaging cans had nearly doubled in the previous three years.
Grand jury recommendations stated concerns over the aging fleet of collection trucks and the durability of trash cans. In Mayor Kevin Faulconer's response, he said the culprits were cans that had outlived their 10-year lifespan, not trash collection trucks.
A couple months prior to answering the grand jury, Faulconer announced all 131 diesel-powered trash trucks would be replaced with cleaner natural gas powered vehicles by 2022.
While I was out hunting down a trash truck, the League of Women Voters and others pleaded with the city council's rules committee (June 13) to consider a ballot measure to repeal the 1919 People’s Ordinance.
This ordinance organized trash collection in San Diego via a ballot proposition during a bitter mayoral race in 1919. Before this, people dumped what they wanted wherever they wanted.
Over the years, the ordinance has been on the chopping block but so far has remained unscathed. In 2011, mayor Jerry Sanders endorsed ending the free ride to close a $59 million budget gap.
Impassioned pleas on June 13 — about it being "time to level the playing field" and needing to use the $50 million spent on free trash collection on other things — fell on deaf ears. Not one city council member commented, questioned, or was moved to take a vote on even the possibility of a ballot measure to repeal the 1919 ordinance.
One multi-million dollar nightmare mentioned June 13 was China's recent ban on recyclables and how it might hinder important zero waste goals. San Diego sends about 80 percent of its recyclables overseas (in 2016, California exported 60-percent to China). Fewer countries taking San Diego's recycling could mean recyclables ending up in local landfills.
CalRecycle held a workshop on June 4 to discuss how to deal with the seismic-shift of other countries being more picky about accepting our recyclables. This is due in part to recyclables being contaminated (oil residue) making the recycling process harder.
This snafu could cost the city millions. A state assembly bill (AB-3178) currently going through the senate could address this by having "good faith efforts" taken into consideration when gauging landfill reduction goals. What this means for 2040 zero waste goals is anybody's guess at this point.