Article & photos by: DAMIAN DOMINGUEZ - follow on X @IJDDOMINGUEZ
Original article can be found here.
Greenwood’s city staff have fallen behind on trash collection, but this week they’ve rolled out the latest tool to improve routes.
Sitting in front of a computer monitor displaying pins in a map of the city of Greenwood, Assistant City Manager Ryan Thomas showed off the new software. Code enforcement staff can scout ahead of garbage collection routes, pin locations where there’s bulk trash to collect at curbsides and the software creates an optimized route for the collection crew to grab these piles.
Efficiency is key when the city’s public works department is facing increased volume of garbage alongside a staff shortage.
“We’ve been facing issues with all the rental properties for a while, it just didn’t become an issue until recently because we weren’t also dealing with the staffing issues we are now,” said Public Works Director Erek Leary.
The volume of trash has ramped up over the last five years, but public works staffing stayed the same over that period. Then, back-to-back, the department saw one staffer die, another retire and two quit.
“We’re at the mercy of not only staffing, but volume,” said Assistant City Manager Ryan Thomas. “We’ve told the public we would pick up basically anything they put at the curb .... it’s unsustainable.”
Public works is short by four drivers with commercial driver’s licenses, and the market for hiring CDL drivers is tight. The city has offered better pay and started offering to pay for staff to get their CDL — a requirement for anyone to operate the city’s trash trucks — if they agree to stay with the city for a set number of years. City administration is trying to recruit students from Piedmont Technical College’s CDL program.
Although the city is undergoing a compensation and classification study that might lead to adjustments to how staffers are paid, trash crews have already had their pay bumped up. Thomas said CDL drivers are one of the roles in which the public sector struggles the most to match the pay the private sector can offer.
Greenwood does seem to pick up more bulk trash items than other, comparable communities, said Mayor Brandon Smith, including furniture and the nearly 1,000 mattresses crews collect each year.
The crews collect so many mattresses they need a designated route just to gather them. The typical household garbage put out in roll carts gets its own route and yard waste requires its own route. Crews use different trucks depending on what they’re picking up.
Even discarded tires are becoming an issue, Leary said. People are starting to dump them at the curb for collection, rather than pay the disposal fee that tire shops charge.
The biggest culprit, when it comes to delaying routes, is move-outs. When landlords evict a tenant who leaves belongings behind, the landlord has to keep their property available for 48 hours so the tenant can pick it up. But often, some landlords will just move those items to the curb, leaving them there for collection after the 48 hours.
The city makes trailers available to landlords, so they can load those items onto a trailer and if no one picks them up, crews can easily haul it away. But Leary said landlords don’t always request that.
Route optimization is the tool the city is hoping will begin to fix the issue. The new software allowing for staff to map out bulk trash piles and generate an optimized route rolled out for commercial collection routes Monday. It will take a while longer to iron out the details and implement the software for residential routes, Thomas said.
Before the software, and in an ideal staffing situation, eight crew members would split into pairs to operate two knuckle boom trucks and two other trucks. They work sequentially through 13 zones, driving every road to collect garbage and look for bulk piles. The route optimization software means they don’t need to drive every road except for residential collection; they can drive a direct route from bulk pile to bulk pile.
“One place we’re struggling and one place we can do better is in education,” Thomas said. “How can you get better if we don’t tell you.”
There are some key things people should remember when disposing of their trash, Smith said. If items can be bagged and put in the green roll cart for weekly collection, they should be. If items are placed loosely by the curb, residents should ensure they can’t be rummaged through by people or animals, potentially making a mess in the yard and street. Storm winds can blow unsecured items away, too.
Aside from separating trash and ensuring house and yard trash aren’t mixed, Smith asked people to consider taking large piles to the landfill themselves. The county has nine convenience centers open throughout the week, for more information visit bit.ly/45TuEjM.
And for residential customers who don’t get their trash picked up on the expected day, Leary said be patient — leave your roll cart by the curb for another day. Crews will likely be by the following morning and are just catching up on delayed routes.
“I don’t want anybody to think it’s something we’ve got our heads in the sand about,” Smith said. “We know it’s an issue to address.”
City council will be evaluating the curbside garbage collection program and asking some questions: What should the city pick up, at what volume and how often? In the meantime, they’re still hiring. To apply for a job with the City of Greenwood, visit bit.ly/47Tggdk.