TAMPA — When 260,000 households switch to a new garbage collection system, there are bound to be glitches, foul-ups and grumpy people.
Hillsborough County is on schedule to begin its new automated garbage system Monday. Residents in neighborhoods with Monday collection will be rolling their new 95-gallon garbage bins to the street so they can be snatched by robotic arms on new trucks, many fueled by environmentally friendly natural gas.
The 500,000 bins cost $25 million and will save the county about $10 million a year because the automated service makes garbage and recycling pickup quicker and more efficient. The new system is also supposed to be safer and cleaner.
But some people are finding it hard to make the adjustment from using their own garbage cans to automated pickup using similar rolling bins.
“This ridiculous new system for garbage collection will be an unmitigated disaster and it won't take you long to see that,” wrote Jon Touchton, one of the more disgruntled residents who emailed county commissioners about the new service.
Touchton complained in his email the “nice, new garbage cans” he had purchased were rendered “obsolete” by the change to automated collection. The county-provided garbage bins don't fit in his garage, Touchton said, and he worries his trash won't be collected unless he places his bin “just right” on the curb.
The size of the new collection containers was a common complaint in emails examined by the Tribune. The 4-foot-high, 95-gallon bins can look intimidating to residents accustomed to standard 35-gallon garbage cans. But the carts have a handle and two wheels so they can be tilted back, allowing leverage to take care of the additional bulk.
David Figueroa of Valrico complained that he had called the county to request a 35-gallon bin because he and his wife generate a small amount of garbage. The county delivered a 65-gallon container.
“I guess we don't have much choice,” Figueroa said in a phone interview. “We just have to live with it.”
The county made smaller 35- and 65-gallon containers available to senior citizens and disabled residents, but other people are being asked to “test drive” the larger carts until after Christmas. If they still think the bins are too big, the county will replace the 95-gallon bin with a smaller one in January.
“What we're trying to do is get them to try them out,” said Kim Byer, manager of the county's automated collection program. “We don't want them to have a cart that's too small. A lot of people may not realize how much garbage they actually generate.”
The county got a smattering of complaints from residents who live on private roads and have to take their garbage cans to the nearest publicly maintained road to get them emptied.
Diane Clasby of Odessa said she lives a quarter of a mile from the nearest public road. Until now, she has loaded her garbage cans into the back of a pickup truck to haul them to the collection point. She says the 95-gallon bin would be too heavy to pick up and put in the truck.
“We're not walking a quarter of a mile up the road to take our garbage up there,” Clasby said.
A county employee suggested that Clasby shop on the Internet for a caddy to pull the can to the road. But a caddy requires a trailer hitch, she said, and the total can come to more than $150.
“These commissioners make these decisions and they don't care if 20 percent of the public are affected negatively,” Clasby said. “All they think of is the money they're going to save. If I've got to pay $150 for a trailer and hitch, it's not going to save me anything.”
The county delivered the smaller, 65-gallon carts to condominiums and town homes. But Tom Clark found that even that cart was too large for the one-car garage at his Riverview condominium. Clark said his wife could not squeeze by the can to get to the door into the condo.
Clark called the county's solid waste division and Waste Management, the private hauler that handles his area. They agreed to deliver a 35-gallon can to his home.
“I've got no problems whatsoever with our solid waste department or Waste Management. They did great,” Clark said in an interview. “My problem was the whole implementation of it. ... I don't think they went into the communities and said, 'Hey guys, this is what we're doing. What can you handle?' ”
In an effort to prepare residents for the changes, county commissioners appropriated $417,100 for education and outreach. Billboards, posters, social media and the county's television channel were employed to smooth the transition.
Not everyone got the message.
For instance, as the new bins were delivered to neighborhoods starting in late July, they included a message telling residents not to use them until the new automated trucks were on the job starting Sept. 30.
Many people overlooked the message, filled the bins and rolled them out to the roads. The private haulers left the bins on the curb with another reminder that they were not to be used until the program started.
Some mistakes were the county's fault, such as homes that didn't get carts or that got the wrong size. Byer, the automated collection manager, said there were some irregularities in the database listing the houses that needed carts. Plus, about 1,000 houses were built after the county placed its order with the manufacturer, so they didn't get carts.
Each home in unincorporated Hillsborough gets two carts, one for garbage and one for recyclables. With more than 500,000 carts to deliver, some errors were to be expected.
“It would be an unrealistic expectation for it to be perfect,” Byer said.
The county is delivering bins to a couple of routes in Bloomingdale and one neighborhood in Carrollwood. Residents who don't have a bin by Monday should call (813) 272-5680.