Out of step on waste collection

Out of step on waste collection

By Dan McCollum

The News-Gazette of Aug. 15 and the efforts of young Eamon Kuo awakened some old memories regarding trash collection in Champaign-Urbana. I was concerned about the same problem as Eamon, beginning in the early 1960s.

I lived on Arlington Court, a block-long street with 18 homes. Twice a week, some eight different haulers plied that street collecting trash. It occurred to me that a significant savings could be realized if this small neighborhood could band together to contract with a single hauler. This would both reduce the noise and congestion, and would likely produce lower costs to us all. It would also be easier on the streets.

Accordingly, I called a meeting that was held in my backyard. Most neighbors were in attendance. I presented a proposal that I had obtained from one of the more reasonable haulers for a group rate. It allowed for both curbside service or, at a slightly higher rate, backdoor service. As expected, there were significant savings.

After letting my neighbors think the offer over for several days, I conducted a follow-up survey to see if there was significant interest in the proposal. The reactions were varied. Only two were willing to give up their current hauler and support the consolidation. For most, giving up their hauler was almost like asking them to give up their firstborn! So that idea had to be abandoned.

In 1983, I won a seat on the Champaign City Council. Solid waste issues remained high on my agenda, including the hauling situation. At the time, there were almost 20 waste haulers operating in Champaign-Urbana. The multiple, overloaded trucks not only promoted congestion and wear and tear of city streets, but made for higher costs to residents, as well as disturbing their sleep in the early morning hours as they covered the cities to serve their scattered customers.

If individual citizens could not address the multiple problems presented by the waste collection system in place in the cities, I thought local government could. Accordingly, I offered alternatives to the Champaign City Council. The most efficient was for the city to put out a request for proposals for a single entity to contract to provide for hauling services. Of course, this would have put the multiple haulers out of business. To lessen the blow, I suggested that there should be a grace period before the program be implemented citywide. No luck.

There was no question that contracting out waste hauling to a single provider would have promoted considerable savings. I suggested that these savings initially could have been used to have lessened the blow to the independent haulers as they transitioned out of the hauling business. Again, no support on the council.

Finally, I offered a plan that the city be zoned and the various zones be put out for bid to independent waste haulers. Finally, no luck there either. When I consider that most cities of our size and larger either have waste collection handled by their public works departments or contracted out to a private contractor, our so-called progressive twin cities are hopelessly out of step with the norm and determined to remain that way.

All I can say is good luck, Eamon.

Dan McCollum is the former mayor of Champaign,

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