UPDATE 2:03 p.m.: Waste Pro declines comment

The Forest Park City Council is set to vote Monday night on ending its longtime contract with Waste Management. The work session starts at 6 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 745 Forest Parkway.

The winning bidder, Waste Pro, would no longer pick up curbside recycling. If the council adopts the proposed contract at tonight’s 7 p.m meeting, residential rates would be $17.91 per month per home ($214.92). However, adding curbside recycling at $45.12 per year per home would raise that total to $314.16.

Other charges included in the proposed contract include $49.72 per ton and $10.07 for “extra cards” per cart/per month/per home.

If the city does not choose curbside recycling, rates will stay the same through the middle of next year. However, the city says those rates “should be reviewed for FY 23-24.”

The Clayton Crescent asked the city’s public information officer, Javon Lloyd, to clarify how the different charges might apply to residential owners, but did not receive a response requested by noon on the day of the council meeting’s likely vote on the contract:

Good morning, Javon: working with a noon deadline here.

Looking at the proposed contract with Waste Pro, can someone please explain whether the monthly cost to homeowners will be a flat $264.09/year ($17.91/mo/home quoted), or whether homeowners can expect additional charges based on the quoted $49.72/ton and $10.07 "extra cards" charge?

1. What would those amounts be?
2. What is an "extra card charge?"
3. Who will run the transfer station, WM or Waste Pro?
4. Why is there a transition period with Waste Management?
5. What is the current household trash pickup assessment amount per household with WM?
6. If residents want to add curbside recycling, would they individually have to contract with WP for the extra $45.12 per year, or would the city as a whole have to agree to it?
7. If the current recycling education program was ineffective, how would Waste Pro improve upon those efforts?
8. Would Waste Pro include Spanish-language recycling education?

Thanks,
Robin

Waste Management’s current per-home pickup, which includes curbside recycling, is $22 per month ($269.04). Forest Park bills property owners on their annual tax bill for garbage pickup.

We also asked Waste Pro to explain its pricing structure. The company e-mailed this response Monday afternoon: “Thank you for reaching out to us. As it [the contract] has not yet been awarded, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”

Setting the price

Under the proposed contract, Waste Pro could change the price—up or down—depending on economic conditions. That rate would “reflect changes in the cost of doing business measured by fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for All Urban Consumers: Water, Sewer and Trash Collection Services (CUUR0000SEHG) as published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.” The rate would be adjusted “based upon 12-month average (month) over (month) of the current year to April over April of the previous year. The collection rates in subsequent years of this Agreement shall be adjusted annually based upon the net change as described above for the preceding year.”

From April 2021 to April 2022, the national CPI for Water, Sewer and Trash Collection Services has risen from $250.67 to $270.42, an increase of $19.75 per home per year.

This graph shows a $19.75 increase in what U.S. households pay for sewer, water, and garbage collection services between April 2021 and April 2022. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Prices also could change based on “extraordinary fuel rate increase” or any changes to “laws, ordinances, regulations, assessments, fees or taxes that require Contractor to incur additional costs… including changes in disposal fees due.”

What you can and can’t throw out

Under the proposed contract:

  • Garbage pickup would be once a week and residents would have to put the bin on the curb by 7 a.m.
  • Yard waste would be picked up once a week. Residents could put no more than eight bags of yard waste on the curb. Branches could be no longer than 4 feet, no thicker than 4 inches, and must be tied in bundles no heavier than 40 pounds.
  • Residents could put no more than five bulk items—no air conditioners or refrigerators—on the curb each week. Any additional items would be subject to an undisclosed charge.
  • The contract includes free pickup for various city locations that were not included in the published agenda packet as of press time.
  • Waste Pro would continue back door pick-up to elderly or disabled residents “as designated by the City who are physically unable to place container at Curbside on pick-up day.” However, that is limited to no more than 3% of the “total Residential Premises” citywide. Side-door pickup for resident who cannot physically take their carts to the curb “will be granted only if there is no other occupant of the Residential Premises physically capable of placing the Cart at Curbside and the resident provides an affidavit from a physician certifying the physical disability.” The carts cannot be more than 150 feet from the street and back-door service clients would have to bag their garbage so that no bag weighs more than 30 pounds.
  • Waste Pro will not pick up garbage that isn’t bagged, dead animals, hazardous waste like asbestos, construction debris, contractor waste, building materials like old sinks and toilets, chunks of concrete, biomedical waste, tires, paint, compressed gas cylinders, aerosol cans that have not been emptied, ammunition, large engine parts, small engines containing oil or fuels, chemicals, large glass panes, large tree debris, or large stumps.
  • No pickups would be scheduled on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, but would happen during the holiday week.

Accountability

The contract includes a performance bond equal to the amount of the contract, as well as fines for any failures to perform. Specifically, the city would fine Waste Pro $150 for each failure to clean up solid waste spills (meaning Waste Pro would have to pick up any garbage that spilled on the street), $150 for each “failure to collect material from a service unit within 24 hours” (meaning that, if Waste Pro skips your house, they have to come get your garbage within 24 hours), and $300 for each failure to submit “complete, accurate reports and invoices.”

The city would fine Waste Pro $150 for each “failure to remove and clean up hydraulic oil, motor oil, or other spills resulting from equipment breakdowns or leaks.” Waste Pro would be required to “immediately apply Oil Dry or a similar product. After removing such product, the Contractor shall apply degreaser or oil stain remover, as applicable. Thereafter, the affected area shall be steam cleaned. During this cleaning process, the Contractor shall post a notice of the remediation process outside the clear zone and within the City’s right of way.” In plain English, that means Waste Pro has to clean up any spills immediately and that it has to post a sign that it is conducting a cleanup out on the street where people can see it.

In October 2020, a piece of equipment caught fire at the transfer station, spilling diesel fuel and motor oil onsite. Fire Department Division Chief Joel Turner told The Clayton Crescent at the time that “all runoff is contained in an onsite retention system.” Nearby homes and businesses also were exposed to smoke from the fire.

The city also is requiring Waste Pro to use “all commercially reasonable efforts to avoid the creation of nuisance conditions” if the contractor is negligent “either through its acts or omissions while collecting refuse with respect to surface litter, noise, or dust.” Notably, the contract says nothing about containing odors, which sometimes waft a couple of blocks over from Waste Management’s transfer station, especially during hot weather.

Waste Pro also would be required to “maintain and adequately staff” a customer service call center, create an electronic work order outlining all service requests and complaints, and issue a work order for each. Waste Pro would decide whether the complaint or service request is “legitimate or non-legitimate.” The records would be given to the city.

Waste Pro also would have to “handle” complaints within 24 hours (except after business hours and on weekends), replace broken bins within 72 hours, and conduct four citywide “clean sweeps” each year.

It would be up to Waste Pro to educate customers about the services offered, using “a website and a mailing to customers, at least on an annual basis.”

What about recycling?

In previous council meetings, city officials have talked about residents needing “education” on what can and cannot be put in the recycle bins, most notably pizza boxes. Waste Management has said that any food debris in the recycling bin means they have to throw it all in the regular garbage. We’ve asked the city how Waste Pro might do a better job at recycling education and whether it would include Spanish-language outreach as part of any recycling education effort.

During the May 2 work session, Forest Park High School students did a presentation on recycling education based on a two-street sample they had surveyed. The students said they were with a group called “Earth Tomorrow.” According to the group’s president, Evan Minor, “Earth Tomorrow is an environmental justice organization under the National Wildlife Federation and Eco Schools, which strive to help students in front line communities get out into nature and experience what it has to offer.”

Minor said the group had worked with Alan Owens, Waste Management’s representative to the city, visiting 80 homes on Skyland and Warren Streets each Friday in February and March.

“We gave them literature on recycling and other important information on where they could find those resources.” The students tagged each door with either a red or a green tag. The red tag meant they had found “contaminants inside those bins.” The green tag, “if done right, you would find more information about your recycling program in the city.”

According to Minor, the project had some impact. “We saw progress through our education pieces, because the first week we started there was a bunch of contaminated bins,” he said. “However, as we progressed, we started to see some increased interest, and we could tell residents we are trying to improve how they were recycling.”

Minor said plastic bags in the recycle bins, along with food and drinks, were the biggest problems.

“Most of the commonly found items were plastic bags,” he explained. “They should go back to the retailer and not to Waste Management. Then, food and beverages, which is a big no-no in recycling, because it can start causing bacteria.”

The students discovered that many residents “did not know they had a recycling day, which was a big issue that was corrected. Overall, with the right information and education, the city would be doing more recycling than going to landfills.”

Mayor Angelyne Butler asked what the city could do to help.

Minor said, “Help us push out education stuff, because coming from the school is difficult to get it to everyone in the city. But we would do the manual and physical work, the promoting and other surveys if needed. We just need your help getting people engaged.”

Butler suggested adding a section to the city’s monthly newsletter.

In 2019, Waste Management said it would not recycle glass, due to low demand, but that there was a strong market for cardboard and paper.

The transfer station

Waste Management’s transfer station at 327 Lamar Drive (at the intersection of Cash Memorial Blvd. and Brookdale in Forest Park’s Ward 4) accepts truckloads of waste not only from Forest Park, but from all over the metro area. Trucks from the City of Atlanta and other municipalities can be seen driving in and out of the transfer station, which sits at the edge of residences in Rosetown and Forest Park Estates.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells has been vocal about wanting to shut down the transfer station, which directly impacts minority and low-income residents in the area. In May, she shot cellphone video showing the interior of Waste Management:

“I have been complaining about this ever since I have been in office but, unfortunately, I’m only one voice,” Akins-Well said in the video. “You have to have other elected officials that work for the people that actually care, like myself. This is really ridiculous, unhealthy, it’s a hazard to our employees, but yet they have to come over here weekly, don’t get hazardous pay….this is absolutely ridiculous.”

Akins-Wells pointed out the environmental justice problem the transfer station poses.

“And it’s in the middle of a community. But who cares? It’s not bothering them. It’s not disrupting their home and their way of living. But the residents in Ward 4 have to deal with this every single day. Look at the trucks coming in. So while these trucks are backed up, the residents outside this waste transfer station have to smell this and hear this loud noise every single day. Would you want to live here?…It’s not right. Everybody brings their trash here and dumps it right her in the city of Forest Park, in the middle of my ward, but who cares?”

Waste Management bought the 16-acre property from Henry D. Graham for $1.12 million in 1997. Today, the land is valued at $880,000, with the property valued as a whole at $1,815,400, according to Clayton County tax records. In 2021, Waste Management paid Clayton County $25,231.16 in property taxes. In 2007, Waste Management paid the county $225,000 for a permit to raise its platform.

In 2014, Mayor David Lockhart nearly ejected Ward 2 Councilman Dabouze Antoine from a council meeting after Antoine asked why the sanitation contract had not been put out for bid.

Antoine asked, ““Why are we not looking for bids from other companies? Maybe we could get better bids.”

“As we discussed two weeks ago, it will cost $8,000 to $12,000 to put it out for bid,” Lockhart told Antoine. “Waste Management is almost assured to be the lowest bidder and we would no longer have the contract extension but a new contract, which will likely mean an increase in costs for residents and businesses.”

Akins-Wells also questioned why the contract had not been put out to bid.

Lockhart denied Antoine’s claim that Lockhart had been negotiating the contract himself without council’s input, then threatened to have Antoine removed from the meeting.

Before 2005, the city used to do its own sanitation pickup. Waste Management was the city’s first garbage contractor and remains so to the present.

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