SOLID WASTE/City tests new waste, recyclables collection
Striking a balance between customer satisfaction and efficient operational costs for solid waste services is a challenge for any city. To meet that challenge, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recently implemented a citywide change in its hauling service.
The city’s Public Service Department, which serves more than 40,000 customers, faced disposal costs of more than $4.5 million per year, and it recouped $800,000 annually through recycling. Not surprisingly, the department wanted to bring those numbers closer together.
In 1995, the city asked the Sailboat Bend community to participate in a pilot project, whereby the city could experiment with service levels. Officials hoped that, by testing new approaches to disposal, they could reduce costs, increase recycling rates, set cost-effective service levels and ensure customer satisfaction. Sailboat Bend, consisting of 500 single- and multi-family properties, eventually was joined in the project by the neighborhoods of Riverside Park, Dorsey Riverbend and Coral Ridge. In exchange for their participation, savings during the first six months of the project were returned to each neighborhood association. (Sailboat Bend received $10,648; Coral Ridge, $30,049; Riverside Park, $3,416; and Dorsey Riverbend, $8,012.)
Initially, the city changed garbage pickups from twice a week to once a week, and it continued to pick up bulk items monthly. An additional pickup for yard waste was added to the program. Based on neighborhood reaction and cost/weight comparisons, pickups changed as the city attempted to find the most acceptable, cost-effective schedule.
“We knew some service changes would work, while others would need adjustment,” says Program Manager Ed Udvardy. “The cooperation and flexibility of residents in the pilot areas allowed us to arrive at the best service level for all city customers.”
Based on the results of the pilot program, the project staff recommended: * twice-a-week garbage collection using a 65-gallon cart; * weekly yard waste collection using a 90-gallon cart; * weekly recyclables collection; and * monthly bulk pickup service. Public information and education was essential in keeping the neighborhoods aware of service changes. Consequently, the city distributed information in phases, using tools such as stickers on carts; notices and door hangers customized for each neighborhood; articles in community newsletters; and pamphlets on recycling, which also were customized.
Throughout the project, customer input was encouraged through homeowner group meetings; publicized customer service phone numbers; and two customer satisfaction surveys. The first survey provided information that caused mid-project service level changes. The second survey, which was conducted toward the end of the pilot program, yielded a 33 percent response rate and noted a high level of customer satisfaction with the revised services and new carts.
With the success of its pilot project, Fort Lauderdale could justify citywide changes. Clean City recommendations were implemented in December 1998, and the city’s disposal savings are projected to be $750,000 annually.