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Syracuse Councilors raise questions about proposed trash collection pilot program

Trash can be seen strewn about in front of this rental house on Madison Street near Thornden Park. City officials say covered trash carts would prevent spillage and litter.
Scott Willis
Trash can be seen strewn in front of this rental house on Madison Street near Thornden Park. City officials say large, covered trash carts would prevent spillage and litter.

Syracuse common councilors have a number of questions as the Walsh Administration tries to move forward with the next step in overhauling its trash collection system. Councilors are being asked to approve a one-year, roughly half million dollar agreement with Waste Management of New York for a pilot program using automated trucks and new trash carts. Chief Operating Officer Corey Driscoll Dunham says the contractor would be assigned to specific neighborhoods for about 3 to 4 months at a time.

"If we can use a subcontractor just for a finite period of time to learn as many lessons as we can with them, that way we'll be ready when we engage with our city staff to say, 'OK, here are the lessons we learned, what's your feedback, here are some of the challenges we have.' That way we'll be in a much better position when we're ready to roll it out city-wide."

Councilor Pat Hogan says there’s still a lot to consider before they pursue a city-wide plan, such as narrow and one-way streets.

"It's something that definitely will change the way trash has been traditionally picked up in the City of Syracuse."

Councilor Michael Greene wonders why city crews can’t conduct the pilot with its own new trucks that can be retrofitted to lift and empty the carts.

"The data collection won't be first-hand. It won't be our employees learning how to use the equipment. Yes, there will be valuable data, but it'll be less valuable than if we did it ourselves. It's different trucks. The carts, totally, let's go and do it. But I'm having trouble seeing why we wouldn't do it ourselves instead of privatizing."

Dunham disagrees, saying the pilot is strictly about introducing the new trash carts and gathering data, not moving toward privatizing trash collection. She says the longer term goal is to make the job safer for sanitation crews, who sustain more injuries than any other city worker.

"This job is not an easy one. You're lifting a 50 pound trash can 300 times a day. If you look at the workers compensation numbers for strains, it's more than double than any other department. They're at the the top of the list of every single way you can hurt yourself at work. We really want to make this a safer work environment, make it a more consistent, reliable service for residents, and overall make the city cleaner."

It’s not clear if councilors are prepared to approve the pilot program at their Monday meeting. If it goes forward in its current form, trash carts would be delivered to as many as three thousand households in the selected neighborhoods, and the trash collection would begin in January.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at