Thursday, February 17, 2022

Why Nashville can't pick up the trash

Courtney Johnston
by Councilwoman Courtney Johnston, Feb. 17,2022 - As everyone is acutely aware, we are continuing to have problems collecting the trash. Our contractor, Red River, continues to experience issues with not only their fleet but with their work force as well. I want to answer everyone's questions as best I can about how we got here and what we have done and are doing now to solve this problem - not only in the short term but in the long term as well.

 How did we get here?

The contract that dates to 2004 with Red River is nearly 20 years old, ending in November 2024. In my opinion, it wasn't the best contract to begin with.  It was a 10-year contract with two five-year renewals. In my opinion, service contracts should never be that long in length between review/renewal periods. Cities change!  We all know the extreme growth that the city of Nashville has experienced.  The ideal route design and fiscal note for 2004 and 2014 Nashville is vastly different than 2019 Nashville or now, for example.  Additionally, for a number of years, Metro has failed to invest in both their heavy (trash trucks for example) and light (sedans and SUVs for example) fleets. 

This Administration and Council inherited a $120 million fleet deficit which the administration has reduced to $60 million through grants and some covid relief funds.  But a deficit remains, and without trucks of our own, it’s impossible to mitigate missed routes ourselves when the contractor, Red River, is unable to complete those routes.  We now find ourselves in a situation where supply chain issues make it nearly impossible to purchase new trucks or fix existing ones. Existing purchase orders are sometimes a year to a year and a half out with expectations of extending even those long terms. Most don’t even have projected delivery dates at all.

 What have we done? 

 Earlier in the term, we experienced trash collection issues and we found that the four-day collection

cycle was not adequate to keep up with the growing population. So, we redesigned the routes for them to be on a five-day collection cycle. While we had hoped that this would be our saving grace, it was not. During that same time, more people were at home because of the pandemic, creating exponentially larger amounts of trash. This increases the number of times the trucks leave their route to go to the transfer station to dump the truck. That causes further delays with traffic as you can imagine. As we moved through the pandemic, their human resource issues got worse and worse with workers unable to work because they were sick or exposed, or just resigning their position. Additionally, their fleet was experiencing breakdowns, etc., but the supply chain issue was causing great delay in the repair of those trucks. 

 Recently, to mitigate the large delays in trash pickup, we suspended curbside recycle services so that we could use those trucks to pick up the regular trash on 5 daily routes.  This worked!  Our trash was picked up on time for several weeks!  This was a decision that Red River did not like and, since they are in bankruptcy court, they are protected from having contracts canceled in any way without going through a formal and sometimes lengthy process. So, being unable to keep those routes, the trucks returned to curbside recycle service on February 1st, and the routes the recycle trucks took care of went back to Red River.  This was not Metro’s choice but to avoid legal action, the routes had to be returned to them. 

 What are we doing NOW to fix this?

 Metro has filed a motion in Bankruptcy Court to remove 10 of the 21-23 daily routes.

MWS has requested Waste Management (WM) activate their “Green Team”.  This is WM’s internal team that responds to emergency situations.  This will provide us with 10 side-loading trucks and crews.  MWS has requested their services for 60 days.  This may have to be extended.

Starting on Friday, 2/18, and until we get caught up, metro crews will be working beginning 6 AM – 6 PM.  This will maximize our ability to have crews and equipment fully engaged during daylight hours.  This will be an all-hands evolution, with supervisors and all levels of leadership doing all that is required.  The goal is to pick up all RR’s Thursday and Friday curbside routes between this Friday and next Monday (the holiday) so Metro Waste Services and RR can start next week from their normal starting point.  Emphasis will be placed on the SE quadrant of the county.  From that point forward, and until we can get more resources, Metro Waste Services will have to pick up 10 RR routes each day in addition to our regular collection.  This will, no doubt, place great stress on our crews.  They are already working very hard and doing outstanding service to our community.

The two vendors, Waste Management and Waste Pro, are already in process of completing the contracting process will be providing crews as soon as they can. General Services Fleet continues their efforts to return assets/trucks to service.

 We are actively looking for trucks to purchase or lease.  All metro trucks available are being used to pick up trash left on routes not completed by Red River. 

 In my opinion, we need to move trash collection back in house. – at least a large portion of it.  This allows us to fill in the gaps of any outside vendor as they come up.  But it also gives us LEVERAGE.  We cannot do this without trucks.  No, it’s not a money issue – it’s a supply issue.  There simply are not enough trucks available or being built and that’s a global problem.

 I know this was a long explanation, but I want to be thorough and transparent with you.  This is an inherited problem exacerbated by the pandemic which has created workforce and supply chain issues as well as increased the residential trash tonnage.  It’s a perfect storm.  But I can tell you that I’m on the phone with at least one person from Waste Services every single day about this.  I just got off the phone with a consulting company in San Diego that manages trash and recycling across the country.  We’re ALL working on it, and we are all frustrated.  We’ve got some really dedicated people that work for our city every single day that are doing everything they can to find solutions.  While we’re all frustrated, I appreciate your patience.  We continue every day to look, think outside the box,and to solve this issue.

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