Is there a plan for restoring weekly residential recycling pick-ups?











Coincidence, says, is a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.

For example, in the fall of 2021, Mayor Brandon Scott enthusiastically announced the City would be distributing 65-gallon recycling carts to every eligible household. The big blue bins have been welcomed by some and cursed by others, but in November and December they rolled off box trucks and were plopped down in front of hundreds of Bolton Hill row houses and elsewhere.

Then in mid-January the city’s new Director of Public Works, Jason Mitchell, announced that the City would be cutting in half its residential recycling pick-up service. He blamed worker absenteeism caused by the pandemic and the need to assign drivers to snowplow duties. After two years of COVID the city still had no auxiliary back-up workforce plan.

It is the second time since COVID arrived in early 2020 that recycling services were suspended. In 2020 pick-ups halted entirely for nearly five months as DPW workers suffered from infections. The latest cutback was said initially to be “temporary,” although no one at DPW will use that word now. Rather, DPW spokespeople are linking the absence of recycling pick-ups to the distribution of the cans.

I called on Bolton Hill’s city council representative, Eric Costello, to ask DPW what the plan was: what was their goal for reinstituting the pick-ups? He said he would inquire, but that DPW was generally, in his words, “unresponsive.”

About the same time, DPW’s director Mitchell appeared on WYPR and discussed the staff shortages. He said the main problem was keeping drivers on the job because of competition from the private sector, and COVID. He said the department has instituted CDL training classes to upgrade employees and was hiring qualified new drivers. Other sanitation workers, while affected by COVID, were not in short supply and relatively easy to replace, he said. In briefly discussing the cutback on services, he did not use the word “temporary.”

Larry Nunley is a community relations staffer for DPW who attends BHCA meetings often. This month he was asked about the plan for restoring weekly recycling and he promised to get an answer. Here is what his supervisor told him to say:

“Due to COVID-19 and the significant impact it has had on the City’s Solid Waste Bureau, DPW, in an effort to sustain collection services, modified the collection of recycling services effective Jan. 18, 2022. The recycling modification plan also includes additional drop off sites. Information regarding the plan can be found on DPW’s website … or by calling 311.”

That seemed, to use Costello’s word, unresponsive, so I posed this question again, this time to Yolanda Winkler, DPW’s Chief, Office of Communications and Strategic Alliances: Does the department have a target date or goal for resuming weekly pick-ups?

Winkler responded: As you know, we have distributed recycling carts to over 150,000 residents. It is our ultimate goal to sustain recycling collections…. We are continuing to evaluate sustainable solid waste collection schedules.

Perhaps it is just a hedge so that city officials can avoid criticism for announcing a goal and failing to meet it. For residents with cars and free time to haul their stuff, the DPW Station at 2840 Sisson Street will accept deliveries Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And pick-ups will continue on alternate Fridays. The next one in Bolton Hill will be Feb. 25.

About those blue bins: they are part of Mayor Scott’s goal of increasing rates of household recycling across the city, his office said. They were paid for in large part through contributions from bottling and packaging trade associations that have opposed bottle taxes or other packaging limitations designed to cut waste and promote re-use. The mayor called it a “first-of-its-kind public-private partnership.”

– Bill Hamilton