Texas City residents should give the city’s new automated garbage service a chance.
City officials have fielded hundreds of calls about planned changes to the services, effective Feb. 1. Some of those calls are to lodge complaints, while others are to register support, city officials have said.
Most municipal workers and elected officials can attest that people don’t like change. But change in any industry and service is inevitable. And if anyone has even casually studied the solid waste collection industry, the changes are driven by labor shortages, injuries, technology and costs.
Under Texas City’s existing system, two sanitation workers ride around town on the back of a Republic Services garbage truck, dumping bins by hand.
Under a new contract, Waste Connections of Texas trucks with hydraulic arms will perform that task. The only human being necessary for the waste collection service is the truck driver.
The new automated service will cost residents $24 a month. That’s nearly double what Texas City residents pay now, but $1.75 less than the $25.75 a month they would have paid had the city renewed its contract with Republic, Texas City Solid Waste Director Mike Stump said.
The new service also will require residents to give up their old bins for 96-gallon carts, according to Texas City’s $2.3 million contract with Waste Connections of Texas.
Also, instead of taking their garbage to the alley behind their houses every week as they did before, people will now be required to take their new cart to the front of their houses, where the hydraulic arm can grab it more easily.
The city is changing to the automated service because that’s the way the industry is moving, Stump said.
The solid waste industry, along with cities that still provide their own garbage collection services, is moving to automated trucks as a substitute for sanitation workers who manually lift, tip and empty garbage containers people leave curbside.
A seldom discussed fact about the industry is that it’s dangerous.
Solid waste collection workers are exposed to health and environmental safety risks, heavy workloads, volatile compounds and even infectious materials.
The fatal injury rate for waste collectors is 33 per 100,000 — ahead of police officers, construction workers and miners, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And not a lot of people are signing up for the work, the industry has reported. Although garbage collection is valued by society — meaning that everyone quickly notices the absence of service — it isn’t sought-after work.
The average hourly wage of a U.S. sanitation worker is $17.88, representing an annual salary of about $37,200, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Aside from fatalities, injuries from repetitive manual labor also are industry hazards.
It would be naive and disingenuous to argue the industry’s motives are purely about employee safety. The name of the game is to collect more waste at less cost. It’s business.
As private waste collection companies and municipalities consider automation, they’re looking at employee turnover rates, time missed by injured employees, productivity, worker’s compensation claims and insurance premiums.
Other cities in Galveston County, including La Marque and Galveston, all have moved to an automated service over the past decade or so, and for some of those very reasons.
“It’s funny, most of the folks that call up and say they don’t like the change have never used an automated service, and the folks that call up excited about it have had automated collection in the past and love it,” Stump said.
“We’re asking that residents go into this with an open mind and an understanding that a transition like this will have some challenges, but we will overcome them.”
The industry is changing and consumers of garbage collection services will have to change with it.
• Laura Elder