UHS junior seeks smoother trash hauling routine
URBANA — If you've ever been awakened before dawn by the beep-beep-beep of a truck in reverse or the piercing clank of machinery outside your window, you probably know that the trash hauling business in Champaign-Urbana is not so orderly.
About a dozen private trash haulers operate in the two cities — a departure from other cities and towns that either franchise the garbage business to one or two haulers or just do it themselves. Now, an Urbana High School junior has taken notice, and he's looking to do what he can to make the city's trash hauling more efficient.
The more haulers there are, Eamon Kuo says, the more trucks there are on the street doing the same job and running the same routes. And, beyond noise, that can have serious effects on the community.
"Those things weigh tons," Kuo said. "Literally tons. They take a lot of fuel, they make a lot of greenhouse gases and they do road damage."
And Kuo doesn't forget last winter's road damage — he was learning to drive for the first time.
The trash issue was brought to his attention when his mother commented that neighbors in west Urbana were complaining about the noise. He hypothesized that there must be a better way, and enlisted two of his friends — Nate Horner and Nathan Poulosky — to help him survey his neighbors and study how they pick their haulers.
"It's ridiculous," Kuo said. "Every other city or town on Earth, pretty much, has a rational system."
Kuo calls it the Urbana Trash Improvement Pilot Project (U-TIPP), and he went door to door at the end of July and beginning of August. His findings: Although one hauler, Chris' Service Co., dominates his neighborhood along Vermont Avenue, a mashup of private haulers comes through regularly. In addition to Chris', his neighbors use ABC Sanitary Hauling, Dale Levitt Disposal and Republic Services.
And while the specific companies may vary, that general situation has long been the case in other Champaign-Urbana areas. They often come before 7 a.m., said Alderman Charlie Smyth, D-Ward 1, and he is always hearing noise complaints.
"Regularly," he said. "It's a constant issue, especially around Leal School."
Although official noise complaints to the city are "very few," said city environmental sustainability manager Scott Tess, the trash hauling topic does come up periodically.
"At this point, we don't have any plans to make changes," Tess said. "We do take any complaints regarding noise from residents and we communicate those with haulers."
The city has, over time, added some regulation to the local hauling business. The city licenses trucks to make sure they're in proper working order, Tess said, and it established zones that define which days of the week haulers can pick up trash in particular locations.
Still, "it's pretty nutty," Smyth said, and he thinks the same inefficiency exists in the recycling pickup program the city runs. Different haulers won different contracts for two parallel programs, one of which provides recycling pickup at multifamily buildings and the other at single-family homes.
"The next time we bid those out, we can look for joint services," Smyth said. "We almost did it last time."
But as for the trash services?
"It comes up every once in a while, but I think there's still too many independent haulers to have a system where we could bid out like the recycling program," Smyth said.
Urbana's system gives customers more choice, too, he said. Not every hauler provides the same service or does it at the same cost — residents can decide, for example, if they want curbside or back-door service.
"I like back-door pickup, and I pay that premium," Smyth said. "That's a service that I'm willing to pay extra for."
Kuo will present his findings to the city council next week, and he's still holding out hope.
"There's ways to have the city manage it without having any garbage haulers go out of business," Kuo said.
But for now, the other option is good, old-fashioned neighborhood groups. Several neighborhoods have gotten together and jointly contracted with a hauler, Smyth said. That, at least, makes trash pickup day more orderly.
And that will be Kuo's project next summer. He said he might visit his neighbors again and suggest they all get on the same hauling service.
"We'll ask nicely," he said, "and explain that it's good for the city and the street."