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City fines Waste Management for missing recycling pickups

(Published February 14, 2000)



Staff Writer

The District government fined Waste Management Inc. $9,825 on Feb. 10 for failing to carry out its contractual obligation to pick up city residents’ recyclable materials during recent inclement weather.

Public works officials "have instructed Waste Management to have collections current through today," department spokeswoman Linda Grant said the day after the fine was assessed.

Grant said officials expected to continue performing inspections throughout the city over the weekend and on Feb. 14 to make sure Waste Management workers had caught up with collections and were returning to a normal pickup schedule.

The recycling contractor was fined after city officials performed a "spot inspection" in parts of Ward 3 during which they counted 393 recycling bins that had not been collected, Grant said.

A "missed collection clause" in the city’s contract with Waste Management allows the Department of Public Works to impose a $25 fine for every "missed" recycling bin that is at least 24 hours overdue for pickup.

Ward 3 residents made numerous calls to city council offices last week to complain about irregularities in their scheduled pickups of recyclable materials, according to council staff members. Scattered complaints have come in from residents in several other parts of the city, as well. Some residents have recently complained that their recyclables have sat uncollected for almost a month.

In addition to complaints about missed pickups, residents also complained that city trash crews were mixing garbage and recyclable materials – effectively turning the carefully separated recyclables into trash.

One city resident whose complaint was posted Feb. 9 on an online newsletter said he was told by an official in the city’s Solid Waste Management Administration that "the order to mix the recyclables and the garbage came from the mayor’s office."

Peggy Armstrong, the mayor’s spokeswoman, denied Feb. 11 that the mayor had issued any such order to the public works department.

"The mayor asked them to put more trucks onto picking up trash, not to mix recycling with trash," she said. "Recycling trucks were to be used for trash pickup."

The city purchased special trucks for picking up recyclables several years ago before the current contract was issued for Waste Management Inc. to perform all recycling pickups for the city.

Recent problems with city trash collection, attributed to compacted snow and ice in the city’s alleys, prompted City Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, who chairs the council’s public works committee, to convene an oversight hearing Feb. 2 to quiz public works director Vanessa Dale Burns about why snow removal had not been handled more efficiently in residential areas during recent snowstorms.

In a follow-up letter to Burns, Schwartz said the city spent an estimated $130,000 to $200,000 extra to equip the 26 new trash trucks it bought last year with snowplows. She noted that Burns told the council the trucks were not used for plowing during the recent storms because public works officials "did not want to risk those trucks going out of commission, and delaying trash collection efforts."

"We cannot have it both ways," Schwartz wrote to Burns. "Either equip these trucks with plows when needed, or remove the plow mechanism, thereby reducing the abnormal wear and tear this heavy mechanism must be placing on these trucks."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator