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The trash business isn’t what it used to be. Years ago, two or three employees went into the alleys to dump heavy metal containers into the back of a truck. Today, using specialized vehicles, the task of emptying trash containers that are in the alleys and curbside is safer and takes less employees. In Roswell, the extensive task of safely and efficiently dealing with the trash produced by citizens is handled by the 34 full-time employees of the city’s Solid Waste Department.
Those skilled workers accomplish three important functions for the City of Roswell: collecting, disposing and recycling of solid waste. Six days a week, some Solid Waste Department personnel are at work in the city beginning at 3 a.m. to help keep Roswell clean and safe.
Throughout the city, sanitation employees collect trash in special vehicles costing between $200,000 and $300,000 each, often having to operate these vehicles in narrow, fence-lined alleys with gas meters, overhanging tree limbs and low overhead utility lines. The department’s CDL (commercial driver’s license) operators must possess a unique skill in handling the rolling pieces of machinery they pilot through city alleys.
Residential and commercial trash collections throughout the city keep the Solid Waste Department plenty busy. In addition, there are nine large green recycling containers, as well as various dumpster rentals, located throughout the city that are collected using two roll-off trucks. Also, the collection of large unwanted items and yard debris left in city alleys is a continuous task. To be able to go through all of the city’s alleys at least once a month takes four grappler trucks.
Every week, there are usually no less than 16 heavy-duty sanitation collection trucks operating in the city and two trucks are in use on Saturdays. All of these trucks are able to keep up with the trash collection schedules thanks to the continual support of the fleet maintenance shop that maintains and repairs the trucks. The shop also keeps the landfill’s heavy construction equipment running. The landfill equipment must be adequately maintained because the machines are used six days a week to compact and bury trash.
Other skilled employees work to keep the landfill (3006 W. Brasher Road) operating in a manner that adheres to state requirements regarding how trash is accounted for, recycled and buried. Several landfill employees are trained and certified by the state to operate the landfill. Essentially, they determine what gets buried and what doesn’t get buried in the landfill. Employees who operate the Scale House must have Weighmaster licenses. The landfill employees who actually compact and bury the trash operate equipment that can cost between $500,000 and $1 million. The heavy equipment operators at the landfill are highly skilled personnel who operate heavy equipment on difficult terrain and in all weather. Unlike many construction and highway project sites, the work at the landfill cannot stop for heavy rains or other bad weather. The landfill equipment operators have to keep going until the job of compacting and covering the trash is done.
In the landfill office, the staff handles the administrative responsibilities of the department and helps customers who call or visit with questions or concerns.
Nearby at the Recycling Center, employees sort and bale plastics, cans, newspaper and cardboard for shipment to material recovery facilities in larger cities. The Roswell center ships out about 300 tons of recyclable materials each year.
The department takes pride in not only providing refuse and recycling operations, but also being able to contribute to providing a cleaner and safer community.
“The truth of the matter is that every employee in the Roswell Solid Waste Department in their own way contributes to economic growth, public health and safety in the city,” says Steve Miko, the director of the Solid Waste Department. “Our contribution to growth in the city ranges from staff advising new businesses about the location, size and collection frequencies of their dumpsters for a clean and safe-looking establishment to ensuring that all of our service models support the entire community, a place where people want to live and work. Other city departments also have clean-and-safe responsibilities and the Solid Waste Department works together with them to make Roswell cleaner and safer. However, it never looks clean and safe until the unwanted items are safely removed and properly disposed of in the municipal landfill, and that just happens to be the Solid Waste Department’s mission.”
The biggest challenge on a daily basis for the department is meeting customer expectations. The challenge is actually three-fold: Hiring and keeping talented CDL operators, having the funds necessary to keep the fleet running and the landfill open for business now and into the future, and keeping up with changes in a dynamic industry.
The Solid Waste fund is an enterprise fund, which means the money to operate the entire department and pay for future initiatives – such as opening and closing a landfill disposal cell that can cost millions – comes from the fees charged for the department’s collection and disposal services. Even with a good record of continuous improvements highlighted in the department’s annual reports, the department’s operating objectives always seem to outpace revenues.
Miko points out, though, the department’s leadership team has developed strategies for improvements to reduce costs and look ahead for revenue opportunities.
“For example,” he says, “the fleet modernization plan over the last three years has reduced maintenance costs. This year’s project to renew the landfill’s operating permit to include additional types of special wastes is an opportunity to expand the service model for the community and add new revenue. Next year’s addition of a quick-through scale at the Scale House will save fuel, lessen backups at the scale, and reduce unproductive time for all of the city collection trucks that come to the landfill to dump. We are also looking at new ways to reduce man-hours for handling leachate (at the landfill).
Miko says having great people working in the department is its foundation, and having all those people earnestly try to operate the department as a business, he believes, sets Roswell’s Solid Waste Department apart from other municipalities. A business mindset helps ensure financial stability so the department can continue carrying out the business of delivering, improving and expanding its services to help make Roswell clean and safe for everyone.