Landfill closure necessitates privatized waste collection
When the municipal landfill in Conroe, Texas, was nearing capacity three years ago, city leaders fretted that its inevitable closing would force them to pay disposal costs two to three times higher than those they had been paying. Increased transportation costs also were on the horizon since the alternative landfills were miles outside the city.
Consequently, in 1995, the city decided to get out of the garbage business, awarding Houston-based Browning-Ferris Industries a 10-year contract to serve about 6,500 households, and a year later, the municipal landfill did close, as expected. As a result of the contract, the days, locations and methods of trash pickup have changed in Conroe.
Rather than twice-a-week collections over four days, the garbage is collected twice a week over the course of six days. Each household has a 68- or 96-gallon container cart that uses automated side-loaded trucks rather than the rear-loader trucks the city had used.
Under the contract, residents are allowed to include yard waste in their regular collection. However, households that dispose of more waste than can fit in their container carts must order tags for 40 cents apiece and attach them to the extra items.
City Manager Craig Lonon estimates about a quarter of the residents participate in curbside recycling, which is available to residents for a one-time fee of $16. A drop-off center has been established for residents who do not use the curbside service and for those who want to get rid of large items such as couches, washers and dryers.
The city expects to save about $190,000 per year with the new contract. Conroe also realized a windfall by selling the department of public works’ garbage trucks, which it no longer needs, to the firm for about $200,000.
Moreover, through attrition, the city is saving money by having fewer employees on its payroll. As part of the contract terms, the 14 city sanitation workers were guaranteed employment with the contractor if they could not find other city jobs. Several retired or found other jobs, and, eventually, only three ended up working for the company.