Fort Smith Deputy Administrator attempts to explain why recycling trucks continue to run

by Aric Mitchell ( 880 views 

Once again another number has changed with respect to Fort Smith’s recycling progam – or lack thereof. This time it is the amount of recycling picked up by recycling trucks.

The city of Fort Smith announced on May 1 it had been delivering recycled materials to the city landfill from November of 2016. Talk Business & Politics later discovered the actual length of time was late June 2016, and that from October 2014 to present, the city had recycled just 9% of the materials it had collected.

A cost estimate from July 2016-present, based on the city’s own data, revealed Fort Smith spent at least $680,000 (labor included) on the recycling routes while materials continued to be co-mingled with solid waste.

Through each reveal, the city continued to run recycling routes even though it was not recycling. At a Tuesday (June 13) study session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors, City Director Don Hutchings asked Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman to answer one question regarding the decision. Why?

Dingman explained the personnel involved in collecting recycling, as well as the trucks, do more than simply collect materials. They also collect yard waste and help finish solid waste collection routes when they have finished their primary collection duties.

What the Board did not ask Dingman was how much material the recycling trucks collect in recyclables and yard waste relative to how much material is collected each month. After the meeting, Dingman and Serina Tustin, administrative superintendent for the city’s sanitation department, provided estimates to Talk Business & Politics, noting the 14 recycling trucks collected an average of 303 tons of recyclables per month for 2017 and 289 tons of yard waste, while residential waste accounts for 2,108 tons.

The city’s landfill takes in around 21,000 tons of materials each month, so the 2,700 tons collected by residential rear loaders used for recycling and the automated side loaders (trash only) is just north of 10% of the monthly intake. This is noteworthy because when the city first announced the recycling issue in May, it reported 118,320 tons of materials over the six-month span (November to May) with 1,478 of that being recyclables. This data made it appear recycling made up only 1.25% of what the trucks were collecting.

From what the solid waste and recycling trucks do collect, recyclables and yard waste make up approximately 22% of the amount, or 592 tons, with 303 tons being recyclables and the remainder being yard waste. This new info means recycling trucks pick up on average 11.2% of total tonnage, well above the 1.25% from early numbers the city provided.

After the study session, Talk Business & Politics asked Dingman to elaborate on whether there would be efficiencies in parking all or some of the recycling trucks.

“I’ve heard it. They’ll say, ‘How can there not be efficiencies by parking those trucks and just collecting all the household trash with the regular residential trucks and have them collect both bins at the same time?'” Dingman acknowledged. “Well, that could happen except they’ll have to empty more often, and then they’ll have to get back out and extend the routes to be able to accommodate – not in terms of distance but more in terms of time – which costs us money in overtime and everything else. We’d rather pay straight time on these guys, who are normally supposed to be out in the residential areas collecting something. They’re normally collecting recyclables, and now they’re collecting recyclable cans that, yes, are going out to the landfill at the moment. But in order to collect all that tonnage, we still have to have all those people out there collecting if we expect to do it within the same timeframe and try to keep our overtime cost to a minimum.”

Dingman was then asked if the city had looked into doing a cost analysis to hunt for possible efficiencies in parking the trucks.

“I wouldn’t even know exactly how to start on that because we’ve got those trucks, and they do their residential recycling, and then go back around and do residential yard waste. And then, when they’re done, they go back and they help with the regular trash collection on the routes that aren’t completed yet. And so, in order to get a full handle on what it would cost to not have those or even just to park them for a third of the time or half the day, you still have to have those people to do that. The residential collection for a day isn’t done until seven or eight o’clock at night. That’s with everybody we’ve got now going out and collecting. If we take a portion of that out, that just extends the timeframe and we’re paying that much more overtime.”

Dingman added he didn’t know how to “quantify” it down into an actual dollar amount “of what it’s costing us versus what we could save.”

He continued: “There is probably a way to do it. I don’t know how we could start approaching it. We’re trying to figure out different ways we could look at that, but it still comes back down to, we’re still going to have to collect all of this material with this number of trucks, and we’re either taking a third of somebody’s day out of that collection cycle or not. When you start looking at it that way, it still all has to be collected. We can’t leave it all out there.”

Of the remaining numbers from the 2017 monthly average, the Fort Smith Landfill takes in 110 tons per month in commercial recycling; 1,598 tons in commercial trash collection; 3,145 tons in industrial/roll-off trash collection; 12,863 tons in trash brought to the landfill by individuals; and 439 tons in yard waste brought to the landfill by individuals.