Manchester DPW proposes expanding automated trash pickup to most of cityBy PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 15. 2018 10:11PM
MANCHESTER — Public works officials say a one-year pilot program for automated trash collection in three Manchester wards has proven so successful aldermen are expected to consider expanding the service to about two-thirds of the city.
“Overall, the pilot program has been extremely successful,” said Mark Gomez, environmental programs manager for the Public Works Department. “Feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re recommending expanding it.”
Areas of the city excluded from the proposed expansion include the downtown area, alleys, and most one-way streets.
Gomez says those locales are too congested for the automated truck to efficiently navigate and collect rubbish.
“The rest of Manchester, we believe, is conducive to the use of the automated trucks,” said Gomez.
In 2016, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the pilot program in portions of wards 6, 7 and 12. The program kicked off May 1, 2017, with the Department of Public Works deploying one specialized truck to collect trash in selected areas of these wards.
Automated trash collection involves the use of a garbage truck fitted with a mechanical arm, which grabs and empties trash carts. The driver operates the arm from the driver’s seat.
Gomez said one of the primary reasons for the pilot program was concern over worker safety. According to Gomez, Manchester loses an average of 4,503 hours per year to injury among city trash collectors. The city paid out an average of $298,310 per year in workers’ compensation claims to injured city garbage collectors in fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017.
According to Gomez, city workers operating the automated truck incurred no injuries in the program’s first year. Over the same time period, workers on the city’s eight non-automated trucks reported 56 injuries, said Gomez. “This resulted in over 4,200 lost hours and $235,000 in workers compensation costs.”
Gomez estimates that the automated truck saved the city an additional seven injuries, 525 more lost hours, and $30,000 more in workers compensation claims.
The automated collection process requires that trash be placed in a specialized rolling cart compatible with the truck’s mechanical arm. The city sold the carts to residents in the pilot area for $19 to $35, a 50 percent discount, depending on size.
Gomez said residents were quick to buy in: Statistics showed a 98.7 percent compliance rate in Week 1, which rose to 99.9 percent by the end of the first month.
With the expanded service, an additional 10,000 and 12,000 trash carts would be sold to customers who do not currently have a cart or will decide to buy an additional one, said Gomez.
Offering the same 50 percent discount on the carts could cost the city $250,000, but officials believe savings of up to $30,000 per year in workers compensation savings for each automated truck deployed would “far exceed both the annual and total expenditures associated with amortizing the cost of discounted carts,” Gomez said.
In Nashua, where automated trash collection has been in place for several years, the city provides one trash cart for each household at no charge.
Aldermen asked Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard how many layoffs his department incurred since the pilot program launched.
“None,” said Sheppard.
Gomez said workers freed up by the use of the automated truck were reassigned to add new services or improve existing ones. “We were able to keep parks and fields cleaner,” said Gomez. “We did more sweeps of our alleys, and delivered and repaired trash carts.”
“I do agree the totes have made the city cleaner,” said At Large Alderman Dan O’Neil.
Four more trucks would be required, with the expansion phased in over two years. “We’re going to crawl before we walk, before we run,” said Sheppard.
“It’s a good program,” said Alderman Keith Hirschmann of Ward 12, one of the three wards where the pilot program was conducted. “Hooksett is doing it. Nashua is doing it. They’ve been doing it for about a decade. We’re the laggards. I’m telling you — the three wards that have done it, our wards are cleaner.”
The proposal to expand the program will be taken up by the Special Committee on Solid Waste Activities in September.