December 26, 2008 in City

Garbage crews struggle to pick up holiday waste

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Randy Lee (left) and Carl Cline of the City of Spokane Solid Waste Department collect garbage from an alley near 19th and Jefferson December 26, 2008 in Spokane, Wash. The snow was so deep around the container that Cline had to remove the trash (this bag had Kristy Kreme boxes) by hand and toss it into the truck.
(Full-size photo)

A day before, kids ripped off the wrapping paper and scrambled through the boxes to see what Santa Claus (or others) brought them for Christmas.

After the magic of the moment leaves, all that joy usually becomes one of the biggest messes of the year left in alleys for garbage pickup crews in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.

Not this year.

Crews in both cities are struggling to get the word out that the automated garbage trucks just can’t push through the snow in most alleys. As a result, all alley pickup has been suspended in the Lake City and Spokane for the winter season, unless residents put their cans in the street or are lucky enough to know someone with a snow blower or a plow.

On Friday, Carl Cline and Randy Lee tried to force their City of Spokane garbage truck through a berm at 19th Avenue and Jefferson Street. It didn’t go so well.

After picking unbagged garbage by hand out of snowbound refuse carts, Cline, 53, had to dig the truck out of the snow with a shovel.

“With double the garbage from last week and Christmas, I think today was the worst day we had,” Cline said. “It’s pretty tough going.”

Recycling crews are also out and picking up what they can, but they are having an even tougher time in the snow, Cline said.

In Coeur d’Alene, employees from Waste Management – which contracts to do the city’s garbage pickup – have left notices with most of their customers to let them know that they should put their garbage bins on the street.

“We are officially out of the alleys until probably March,” said Steve Roberge, district manager for Waste Management. “I think people are helping other people get their bags out. It’s a good time to help each other and make a positive out of it.”

While most people have gotten the message in Coeur d’Alene, the same cannot be said for Spokane residents, said Randy Lee, a 10-year veteran of the Spokane crew. He was working Friday with Cline.

“I’d say 20 percent of the cans we found on the street,” Lee said. “That means about 80 percent are not hearing” or getting the garbage to the streets.

The deep snow is making it difficult for residents to dig out their bins.

“It’s pretty tough to tote those through the snow,” Lee said. “There are people out there who cannot do it. That’s the problem. We get what we can and a lot of people are upset about it. But we can only do so much.”

The bins on the street also have a secondary problem: the trash bins could become a traffic hazard on streets that have been made narrow by snow berms.

“In some arterials, they might be traffic hazards,” said John Grimes, a dispatcher for Spokane’s garbage crews. “Hopefully, they won’t put them that far into the street.”

Waste Management also contracts to do garbage pickup in Spokane Valley. But Roberge said he didn’t know of any alley pickup there.

Coeur d’Alene Garbage Service/Post Falls Sanitation does the garbage pickup in Post Falls, Hayden, Rathdrum Hauser, and unincorporated Kootenai County, said Phil Damiano, who is the general manager and part owner.

As in Spokane Valley, there is no alley pickup in Kootenai County. But truck drivers face similar challenges.

“We canceled garbage pickup Thursday a week ago,” Damiano said. “That’s only the second time in the 35 years my family has owned this business that we have gone to a holiday schedule because of weather or natural disaster. The only other time was when Mount St. Helens blew.”

But most folks have done a good job getting the trash bins on the street on his routes, Damiano said.

Spokane officials are allowing residents to put out double their normal amount of garbage, without being charged, if the trucks crews were unable to make pickups, Grimes said. He wanted to remind residents that the holiday week has put the entire schedule one day behind.

“Hopefully everybody has a place to stockpile it until we can get it next week,” Grimes said. “It doesn’t look like the snow is going to let up anytime soon.”

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