Members of the Denver City Council land use, transportation and infrastructure committee got an hour-long briefing on the city’s proposed pay-as-you-throw changes to its trash pickup service on Tuesday. It was the second informational meeting before that body over the last few weeks about the long-in-the-works trash changes.
Most of the city’s residents won’t have nearly that level of access to the officials that will be implementing the change — should the council vote to adopt it next month — and that’s a concern for some council members.
How much outreach will be done? Will it be an ongoing effort? After all, residents could face fines if they intentionally put trash in their recycling bins under the new program.
Members of the city’s Department of Infrastructure and Transportation have been meeting with community groups and delivering presentations about the proposed changes, officials said Tuesday. The idea is those groups will help spread the word in the community.
If the new program is adopted, trash collection services would no longer be free in the city. Residents would pay between $9 and $21 a month depending on the bin size trash bin they need, 35 gallons, 65 gallons or 95 gallons. Recycling would continue to be free with pickups taking place weekly instead of every other week and composting would also be free. The focus is on diverting more waste from the city’s landfills to help cut back on methane emissions and fight climate change. The city current diversion rate — 26% — falls short of the national average of 34%, officials say.
Specific questions about trash collection can be routed through the city’s 311 phone line. If 311 operators don’t have answers, they will forward to call on to the city’s trash-specific customer service line, said Art Mejia, Denver’s director of solid waste management.
Councill President Stacie Gilmore doesn’t think that’s a satisfactory solution.
“If we are as committed as we are saying we are as a city and our values are that we want to move to volume-based pricing it only seems equitable and fair to our Denver residents that we have a robust outreach and education campaign that is not only carried out now but is long term,” she said.
Gilmore wants to see a detailed education plan around the changes. She requested that when city staff brings the proposal back to the committee for a formal vote in the weeks ahead, they have a flow chart showing how customers’ questions will be handled.
Mejia mentioned he personally went out to the Montbello neighborhood, in Gilmore’s district, to deliver a presentation to Spanish-speaking residents. Gilmore applauded the effort but wondered how sustainable that kind of outreach would be once the program gets going. Gilmore would like the city to hire some help.
A majority of council members have already expressed their willingness to adopt the program next month. The billing and pickup changes for trash and recycling would begin in October if that happens. Free composting service is expected to begin in January after the city acquires more trucks, Mejia said.
District 6 Councilman Paul Kashmann shared Gilmore’s concerns about plans for education and publicity around the changes.
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“This program is not enough,” Kashmann said. “.. if we’re just dropping barrels and sending out some postcards I don’t think that is going to get us anywhere near what we need.”
He also questioned if the existing city staff was prepared to handle the outreach work he feels is required.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech has been working on overhauling trash collection in the city for nearly all of her more than 11 years on the council. She feels there is more to the education and outreach plan than was covered in Tuesday’s briefing and plans to share more information about how city staff will be communicating the changes when the program comes back to the committee.
“I think we heard some new ideas today that will help strengthen the plan,” she said.