Officials optimistic about new trash collector


By Caitilin McAdoo

Bay City News Service

A switch to a new garbage and recycling service provider that began Jan 3 in parts of San Mateo County has seen some glitches, but officials have said they are confident the problems will be worked out.

Recology San Mateo County is providing the new service to 92,000 residential customers and more than 10,000 commercial customers in Atherton, Menlo Park, the West Bay Sanitary District, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, San Mateo, Burlingame, Foster City, Hillsborough, and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County.

Recology took over the service from Allied Waste after being awarded a 10-year contract with a $51 million base compensation for the first year, according to Monica Devincenzi, recycling outreach and sustainability manager for the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, a joint powers authority known as RethinkWaste.

The new automated service offers improved recycling services, including weekly pickup of recycling and green waste.

It also offers expanded green waste recycling that includes food waste and even pizza boxes.

With the new system, customers no longer have to separate recyclables such as bottles, cans and paper by type and can instead throw them all into a single bin that can be wheeled out to the curb.

"Overall the service has been going pretty well," Devincenzi said.

She noted that Recology has received numerous complaints from customers, mainly for missed pickups, but said that the company has been proactive about responding to those complaints.

One issue customers have had is that when they call to report a problem, they can't get through to anyone. Recology has brought in 15 additional customer service representatives over the past few days, and Thursday, the company put 11 additional trucks on the street to pick up garbage that had been missed, Devincenzi said.

Hold times for customer service are now less than a minute, Devincenzi said.

Gina Simi, a spokeswoman for Recology, said that some customers had experienced missed pickups the week before Recology began its service, which accounts for some of the complaints.

Some elderly people and people with disabilities who previously had backyard pickup with Allied Waste did not get backyard pickup this week, Devincenzi said.

Recology is working on updating their system for special pickup instructions and is asking people who wish to have backyard pickup services provided to call the company to update their information, Devincenzi said.

The new system is expected to greatly reduce the amount of garbage customers send to the landfill.

Simi said the company is estimating a 25 percent to 35 percent increase in composting and recycling in the service area.

In the first three days of the new service, there was a 78 percent increase of compost and green waste and a 31 percent increase in recycled materials, Devincenzi said.

"For a rollout of this size ... there are bound to be some problems and glitches," said Malcolm Smith, public communication manager for Redwood City.

He said he has received numerous complaints from residents reporting missed service, but a handful of people have also contacted him to say that the switch went smoothly for them.

"I have a great deal of confidence that they will work out the bugs," Smith said.

Despite the complaints, Simi said that 97 percent of customers experienced no problems with the new service. She also noted that the week after Christmas is traditionally the heaviest garbage week of the year, and this year the amount of garbage collected was double what was collected last year.

Devincenzi said she wanted to remind customers that the new pickup times and routes are different from what people have been used to.

Officials are asking customers to wait until 6 p.m. before reporting a missed pickup.

In another change from the previous collector, Recology trucks will go down one side of a street picking up trash with their mechanical arms and then return at a later time to pick up trash on the other side of the street.

For safety reasons, the new routes require the trucks to make mainly right turns.

The new three-cart system, known as CartSMART, also means that three different trucks will collect the contents from the three types of bins at different times, Devincenzi said.

The new service, however, also means rate increases for most customers.

Member agencies, which each set their own rates, are in the process of recalculating rates. Overall, customers can expect an average rate increase of between 15 percent and 30 percent with a maximum increase of 38 percent, Devincenzi said.

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