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New Jacksonville waste hauler takes over routes Friday, partially funded by federal COVID relief dollars

Jacksonville city bus and recycling bin
Claire Heddles
/
WJCT News
The city has started setting up its 14 new recycling drop-off sites including 4 large bins in the Philip Randolph Heritage Park parking lot.

City Council this week approved a spending plan for the city’s American Rescue Plan funds that allocates $4 million toward emergency fixes for trash collection problems, and another $4.5 million toward the city’s new contract with the trash collection company Meridian Waste Florida.

On Friday, Oct. 1, the trash hauler is set to take over the routes formerly serviced by Republic Services, for a higher rate. The mayor’s office says the city is swapping contractors because Republic didn’t want to extend its contract.

The $4 million in emergency solid waste funding is partly going toward setting up the city’s planned 14 recycling drop-off locations. Mayor Lenny Curry said residents’ not recycling properly is one reason for deprioritizing it as a solution for waste pick-up delays.

Meridian trash routes
Submitted
This trash pick-up route for Jacksonville’s new contracted garbage collector Meridian takes effect October 1

“Many people mix things in their recycling that can't be recycled, which has become an issue in and of itself,” Curry told reporters on Monday, “which made this not an not an easy decision but an easier decision to prioritize garbage and yard waste over recycling.”

He said yard waste and trash sitting out poses higher safety risks than recycling. So far this year more than 97,000 Jacksonville residents have filed formal complaints about waste pick-up problems, compared to just about 69,000 all of last year.

Another $100,000 a month is going toward the city’s new, temporary contract with a yard waste collection site. The city’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said the goal is to allow trash collectors to go back and forth between their routes and drop off quicker.

“That allows the haulers to go out and get yard waste back and forth to this location much faster,” Hughes told council Tuesday.

According to the mayor’s office, garbage collector salaries aren’t changing as part of the new spending plan.

“Positions are already budgeted for,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Extra funds do not help find people willing to do this work. The additional funds will help us hire other contractors or services.”

Curry said some of the contracted waste haulers make up to $60,000 a year, but a garbage collector who called in to WJCT’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross said many make far less than that and receive little appreciation.

“I never hear anything about the garbage guys getting any recognition. Nobody thinks of us,” said the garbage collector, who identified himself as Chris from the Southside. “We put our stuff out; most of us barely know our garbage guys. We don’t even know what they look like.”

According to Jacksonville’s job postings, solid waste workers make less than $33,000 a year and garbage truck drivers are hired at $37,000 a year. Representatives for the city’s contracted trash collectors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The city is also set to have extra money in its budget at the end of the year, after charging hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the city’s contracted waste haulers for not hauling the trash on time. So far this year the city has withheld more than $979,000 from its contracted trash collectors in late fines. The mayor’s office said Thursday that the city’s contracts with trash collectors aren’t changing next week, even though they won’t be picking up recycling anymore.

“The amount paid to each hauler depends on the work they perform each month,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Jacksonville is suspending curbside recycling starting Monday, Oct. 4, so that short-staffed trash haulers can focus on picking up household trash and yard waste. Curry said city-employed trash crews have been overworked to make up for staffing issues affecting contracted haulers elsewhere in Duval County. There are 14 dropoff points across the city where Jacksonville residents can drop off recycling.

City officials say staffing shortages are the primary reason for recent trash collection delays, but there’s another long standing issue: The city has just one landfill, the Trail Ridge Landfill, and it's on the far Westside of Jacksonville. That means trash collectors are sometimes driving across the city to drop waste off before returning to their routes.

The cities of Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach have not announced suspension of their recycling pickup.

Details about Jacksonville’s recycling drop-off program launching Monday are on the city’s website.

Contact Claire Heddles at cheddles@wjct.org, (904) 250 - 0926, or on Twitter at @claireheddles.