A long time debate in Bethlehem is about to pick up momentum again as Mayor John Callahan wants City Council to once again consider long overdue city-wide trash hauling contract. And republican candidates for Bethlehem City Council are talking trash. In an effort to put some homeowner perspective on this, particularly if you do not live in the city or if you rent, this is my story. Warning, this gets beyond ridiculous.
Many moons ago I lived in an apartment in Allentown. We had trash collection twice a week. TWICE! It was wonderful. No worries about throwing chicken in the garbage after the trash man already picked up, he’d be back in a few days. And you could set your clock to it too. Our pick up was Tuesday and Friday. I still remember. They always came, never a worry about being skipped or having to call. I never called the City’s waste management or my landlord once about trash collection issues. Never even crossed my mind.
Skip ahead two years to 1999 when my husband and I bought our first house in Bethlehem. What do you mean I have to find my own trash man? This is a joke right? I grew up in Hellertown which also had their own hauler. My husband grew up in Bethlehem so he new this was no joke.
And you can’t just go to just any garbage hauler. You have to contact the city to get a list of “approved” haulers. I tried to find a copy on the city’s website and by searching on google and had no luck. Yes, in 2011 you have to call so they can fax you the list. So you would think that if the city is giving you a narrowed down list they would have weeded out the unreliable haulers. Not. Last time I looked at this list there were 20-30 haulers on it.
So back to 1999. I called a few haulers and quickly realized they don’t all pick up in my neighborhood on the same day. Putting two and two together, I also realize this means I will have garbage trucks in my alley every day of the week. Lovely. Also, some charge “by the bag” and some charge a flat rate, some have a choice. Some provide their own containers. Well, we already bought two brand new garbage cans and the cans they provided are a bright blue that sticks out like a sore thumb. No thanks. Some are small local mom and pop haulers, others are large companies. Some are from New Jersey.
We spent 5 years in that house and had at least three haulers, maybe four. In our current house (we are here about 7 1/2 years) we had two. We I generally tried to stick with local mom and pops but did use one or two of the larger companies.
One put stickers on our garage to identify the house. Really? Fired.
Others were fired because they would skip us for weeks. WEEKS. Garbage stinking things up for WEEKS. When you call you get voice mail 99% of the time. Or if your pick up day is Wednesday they come Thursday. Then, after several weeks you think ok, they moved me to Thursday so you start to put the garbage out on Thursday. They come on Wednesday, grrr.
Or they tell you you have to bring your cans out to the street. Not true. In fact the City does not want you to. Haulers are required to go up your driveway or onto your back yard to pick up the cans AND RETURN THEM. If they don’t, call the city. Our current trash hauler is often guilty of leaving my trash cans all over the sidewalk. Sometimes after I have already left for work, which means they sit there blocking the sidewalk all day unless one of my neighbors is home to move them.
I’m trying not to name names but for this one I will because they are no longer in business. Trash Monster. Never heard of them? Check the morning call archives. We paid in advance so we wouldn’t have yet another monthly bill to worry about. They went out of business without telling us and let our trash sit for a month, just weeks after I paid for the next 6 months. Never got it back.
I had to convince their replacement (our current hauler) that normal businesses send invoices and don’t call and say I’ll stop by Wednesday at 10AM (when I’m at work) to pick up a check. Finally they started sending me an invoice but they call me within two days of me receiving it to find out when I’m paying. You go straight to the bottom of the pile for that one.
My current hauler is also the hauler that decided they are no longer serving the east side of the southside where a friend of ours lives. Problem? They never told their customers, including our friend. So he had to scramble to find a new hauler after reading about it in the paper because he couldn’t get a hold of the hauler. Nice.
My favorite story though happened at our last house. Our garbage hauler didn’t come for weeks. I’d call every week, leave messages or talk to someone who would apologize and tell me they’d stop out today or the next to pick it up and never come. Finally they asked the men on the road what the heck was going on. Their response? OUR HOUSE WAS NO LONGER THERE. Idiots. We did some landscaping and they no longer could find our house. It was a brick twin in a block full of brick twins. If the house was no longer there it would be a pretty obvious gap.
It’s bullshit that anyone should have to put up with this crap. On top of the experiences I have with my own haulers, I live on a one way street, surrounded by other small streets, many one way. Almost every day of the week I get stuck behind a garbage truck.
Plus, if someone has trash all over you can’t tell how long it has been there. Maybe today is their trash day? You won’t know until a week goes by and it is still there.
Also, there is no accountability. The city has no idea if you have contracted a hauler or not. People could be dumping their trash in the woods, in the street, on their neighbors pile, or even taking it to a relative’s house that has city or borough-wide collection.
If the city contracts trash collection they have more clout with the hauler. If the city gets too many complaints about the hauler they can be sure to take that into consideration when the contract is up for renewal and if bad enough, sooner.
So what are the arguments against a city wide contract? Two major issues: 1) the elderly think it will cost them more because many use the “by the bag” rate to keep their rate “low” 2) it will hurt the haulers that don’t get the contract (bad for business, large government blah blah blah).
So my arguments for the first point? If you compare against Allentown’s twice a week collection they pay less than the average Bethlehem resident. If that average is higher than the by the bag rate? Give seniors a discount. NEXT!
For the second point? Oh shut the hell up already. If garbage collection and keeping the city clean, sanitary and healthy is not a city government responsibility then I don’t know what the hell is. As for the small haulers, I am usually a huge supporter of small businesses but we would not have to even consider centralized trash collection if they were doing their jobs. We could simply divide the city into 5 wards, each ward would have its own trash collection day. This would ease the traffic concerns as well as allow neighbors and officials to better tell how long garbage has been sitting out on the street. But many of the haulers aren’t doing their jobs so that won’t work. To appease the ones who are, why not continue to allow businesses to contract their own trash (including apartment complexes). Sure some of the small haulers will likely go under, but hopefully it will be the ones that shouldn’t be operating anyway.
It’s time to clean up the city. A city-wide contract is the way to go.
Update: immediately after posting this, I found my garbage cans in this condition: