A pilot program for valet trash service has gone so well on Industrial Street that the city is expanding it throughout downtown and to Fry Street.
The service will be rolled out in phases between now and November, said Brian Boerner, the city’s director of solid waste.
Boerner outlined what the department learned during the pilot for the City Council this week. He credited the employees who pick up the trash several times a day for the pilot’s success.
“They are the program’s ambassadors,” Boerner told city leaders on Tuesday.
At the end of June, the city removed the dumpsters that served the businesses on Industrial Street. They replaced them with small carts that employees empty several times a day to a nearby compactor.
While the area looks better without dumpsters, perhaps the biggest gain came for recycling efforts. Nearly 29% of the tonnage went to recycling. And, but for the one time a restaurant employee mistakenly tossed some cooking oil in the wrong bin and contaminated a load of cardboard, the contamination rate would’ve effectively been zero, Boerner said.
In addition, the amount of trash employees collected each week decreased by nearly 70%. It’s a mystery where nearly 7 tons of trash went each week, Boerner said. In other words, illegal dumping in the businesses’ shared dumpsters was high.
The department didn’t change its collection rates for the pilot. But employees audited the downtown accounts to prepare a tiered rate structure for the roll out.
The audit found a handful of businesses that weren’t paying for trash service at all. In addition, some large users appeared to be underpaying and some small businesses appeared to be paying more than what seemed justified, Boerner told city leaders.
More than 100 downtown businesses will likely be in the first two tiers. The monthly Tier 1 rate for offices and residences will be $24.70. The Tier 2 rate for small retailers and bars that don’t serve food will be $138.25. Rates for the top three tiers range from $148.75 to $460 per month.
Even though the solid waste department has a general estimate for how much waste a business might create, each business owner will be asked to track their activity on a tally sheet for two weeks before cart service begins.
That way the city knows not only how much is going in the trash and recycle bins, but also when, Boerner said.
“We know there are space and storage issues downtown,” Boerner said.
The tally sheets also give business owners a chance to see if they can reduce their waste and recycle more, and thus qualify for a lower tier.
“We’ll be continuing monitoring to make sure they are in the right tier and charged the appropriate rate,” Boerner said.
But, in exchange for all the benefits — more parking spaces, less truck traffic, reduced illegal dumping, ease of use and improved aesthetics — the bottom line is that valet service costs more. The city is not fully billing for what it costs to provide the shared dumpster service downtown and in the Fry Street area right now. The department will be tracking the true cost of service for a year before making any rate adjustments.
“We want rates as low as possible,” Boerner said.
In other words, some heavy users are likely to see their rates increase.
Steve Severance, owner of Steve’s Wine Bar, said the pilot program worked for his business. He and his crew find the valet service more convenient.
“We walk out back without having to go down the street,” Severance said.
He expects that expanding the service will make walking downtown even more pleasant for residents and visitors. The city’s valet trash employees are becoming part of the neighborhood, too.
“We always greet them and thank them for their service,” he added.
Boerner said solid waste employees know it’s a big change. They have been reaching out both through social media and attending meetings to answer questions and hear concerns.
“We know there’s a lot of conversation going on with the downtown businesses,” Boerner said. “We think we’ll have a much cleaner and better place to do business.”