Refuse department benefits from TQM
In 1992, the Refuse and Recycling Division of the Lakewood, Ohio, Department of Public Works faced escalating costs because of three factors: new mandates as to how mixed recyclables, yard waste and newspaper products should be separated, collected and disposed of; increasing landfill disposal rates; and an early retirement incentive program that reduced staff levels from 70 to 56.
Like other city divisions, Refuse and Recycling was challenged to do more with less.
The mandates involving separating, collecting and disposing of solid waste cost the city an additional $800,000. This increase, along with soaring landfill costs, increased the solid waste collection and disposal budget from $2.8 million in 1990 to $3.4 million in 1992. Spiraling costs dictated the start of a Total Quality Initiative.
During an eight-month process, all 56 members of the division were asked to redesign and improve the collection process. Better separation of waste and recyclables by city residents and by refuse employees was a major focus of this effort. Improved separation techniques reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill by 14,000 tons.
Additionally, newspapers, which used to cost $20 a ton to landfill, are now separated, recycled and actually make money for the city. As part of the program, refuse workers also became more focused on customer needs.
Previously, if an employee felt that trash was not bagged or labeled properly, he would refuse to pick it up, causing numerous resident complaints.
Under a new system implemented within the program, trash is always picked up no matter what its condition, although improperly bagged trash results in “Please Help Us” door tags, which carry the signature of the route’s refuse worker.
The Refuse and Recycling Division has also instituted further improvements that have changed the way solid waste is handled. A curbside program that involves blue bag mixed recyclables, newspaper, yard waste and other bulk items, has been started, and a residential drop-off facility is available for those items, as well as cardboard, office paper, computer paper, magazines, phone books, used motor oil, lead acid batteries, used clothing and construction debris.
Additionally, a recent disposal agreement with the nearby city of Cleveland has further reduced rates.
Additionally, in 1994, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission implemented a newspaper marketing cooperative that allows the county’s Solid Waste Management District to pool recyclables from several cities to secure better prices.
Under the program, the price paid for newspapers is adjusted based on an established market index. There is never a charge to the district for newspaper or magazine recycling during the five-year contract between the recycler and the district. In fact, payment will be made to the district if market conditions allow.
The 14 members of the cooperative recycled more than 7,000 tons of newspaper from February 1994 to Februrary 1995, earning more than $196,000 in revenue and saving about $213,000 in landfill disposal costs. Lakewood itself recycled 1,939.74 tons of newspaper for which the city received $41,681.
During the year, the co-op’s processor, Packaging Corporation of America, increased the price paid for newspaper from $5 per ton to $50 per ton to reflect the favorable market conditions nationwide.
The division is not resting on its laurels, however. Its recycling office puts on a comprehensive education program and spends more than 1,200 hours a year talking to children about the importance of recycling.
The Total Quality program is the key to a successful public sector work force, says Dave Coyle, director of the city’s public works department. “I think privatization is an excuse for bad management,” Coyle says. “If you empower employees, allow them to do their jobs and listen to their input, I think the public sector can beat the private sector in most instances.”
Further savings have been realized after a new agreement was reached with the City of Cleveland for refuse disposal at lower rates. The round-trip to the landfill has also been reduced from 50 miles to nine miles, resulting in savings in the operation and maintenance of the refuse fleet. Thus, Coyle says, the Total Quality Initiative has clearly produced significant results. All employees are involved in ensuring that Lakewood residents are getting exceptional value in both service and cost.
This article was written by Larry Slavik, operations manager of the Refuse and Recycling Division, Public Works Department, Lakewood, Ohio.