By Dale Martin
June 10, 2022
Mr. Greg Huntington, Waste Management (WM) Government Affairs Manager, presented the annual report regarding municipal solid waste and recycling to the City Commission earlier this week. His presentation will be provided to local media and posted with this article on the City’s website and social media pages.
WM, and its successor, Advanced Disposal (acquired by WM two years ago), have served as the City’s solid waste and recycling contractor for approximately twenty years. The City has a franchise agreement with WM, making WM, with very few exceptions, the sole collector within the City limits (as opposed to residents and property owners in unincorporated Nassau County who may subscribe to any collection contractor). The current five-year contract with WM expires in January 2024.
The weekly services provided under the current contract include two solid waste collections, one recycling collection, and one bulk waste collection (large items that are not suitable for placement in the curbside carts). While the solid waste and recycling collection days vary, bulk waste is collected every Wednesday throughout the City. The residential cost for weekly WM services is approximately $20 per month. When the City’s fees for yard waste collection and administrative costs are added, the total residential cost is approximately $27 per month. In contrast, subscription services to the unincorporated areas, for lesser services, are about fifty percent higher.
Within the City, WM has 6,300 residential accounts. With the availability of four collections per residence per week, WM operators make over 1,200,000 “service calls” per year for residential collections. WM also has nearly 510 commercial accounts, including the entirety of downtown where service is provided every day (including Sunday).
The collection statistics shared by Mr. Huntington were interesting. In 2020, during which the effects of the pandemic were most severe, WM collected 6,800 tons of solid waste and 1,300 tons of recycling: the 8,121 tons represented the largest amount of waste ever collected in the City. In 2021 as the pandemic began to subside, collected tonnage diminished: 5,441 tons of solid waste and 1,573 tons of recycling (7,014 total tons). The projected amounts for 2022 continue to decrease: 4,956 tons of solid waste and 1,272 tons of recycling (6,228 total tons).
Although the effects of the pandemic with regard to waste production appear to be disappearing, the pandemic effects on business operations will have a marked impact for many years. Mr. Huntington highlighted a key operational note: during the pandemic, WM never suspended solid waste and recycling collections within the City. In contrast, those services were suspended (and in some cases have yet to be restored) in several other northeast Florida communities.
It is because of equipment availability that City staff is examining solid waste collection services nearly two years before the current contract expires. Based upon discussions with other communities and contractors, it is anticipated that it will be nearly a two-year lead time to obtain new trucks and other equipment such as dumpsters and carts. It is imperative that those acquisition challenges be addressed as soon as possible.
The cost of solid waste services, like nearly everything else due to near double-digit inflation, will undoubtedly increase. Mr. Huntington illustrated the increased costs of wages, fuel, steel, vehicles, and maintenance. As is the case with the City’s labor force, certain key skills (especially a Commercial Driver License certification) are in extremely high demand, making positions remain unfilled for extended periods of time.
The recycling market has nearly disintegrated. While recyclable waste had long customers internationally, the rising incidents of contamination have greatly reduced the value of recyclable waste. Mr. Huntington reported that the current cost of recycling processing is approximately $120 per ton, significantly more than the roughly $50 per ton of solid waste processing. Several communities in Florida have eliminated curbside recycling due to the rising cost of that service. If our community wishes to keep curbside recycling services, I expect the cost of that service will markedly contribute to the total monthly cost of residential waste collection.
In addition to Mr. Huntington’s presentation, he, on behalf of WM, requested permission to negotiate a five-year extension to the current contract, in part to secure pricing beginning in 2024 given the existing economic uncertainties. The City Commission rejected the request for an extension and directed City staff to prepare a Request for Proposals for a new solid waste collection agreement (to be effective January 2024). In addition to the provisions of the current contract, several additional issues (resolved “informally” between City and WM staff) will require clarification: customer communication, customer support, billing responsibilities, downtown collection services, quarterly reporting, and other cooperative considerations.
Given the pressing need to complete a new contract to provide for adequate time to acquire new equipment, the Request for Proposals will likely be published by the end of this month. I expect that a proposed contract will be presented to the City Commission in October.
Please recognize that your household garbage and recycling costs will significantly increase due to the economic effects of the pandemic. How much those costs will rise will be after receiving proposals and determining the level of service to be provided to residents and businesses.