Among the many big decisions facing the soon-to-be-consolidated Macon and Bibb County government is how to deal with trash. The city and the county have two entirely different systems, and officials say the garbage issue is likely to cause a stink.
As of now, county trash is picked up by a private company called Advanced Disposal and trucked away to a landfill in Twiggs County. For residents, pick up costs $12.75 monthly. In Macon, the city picks up trash once a week for $15 a month.
The city’s Walker Road landfill only has about 9 years before it fills up. But Assistant Solid Waste Director Larry Dunning with the city’s public works department actually wants to take on more trash, the city’s and the county’s. And he’s got a plan about to do it.
“Even if we fill this landfill up and have to close it, the idea was if we get all the county’s waste, we’ll be responsible for it -- to recycle as much as we can and reduce the volume that needs to leave Macon, Georgia if this landfill is full,” Dunning said.
The city could do that by getting everyone into an easier single-stream recycling program, Dunning said. People would just throw all of their recyclables into one bin for somebody to sort out later. That could keep as much as a quarter of tomorrow’s trash out of the landfill, he said.
But the city dump is going to fill up eventually. By combining city and county trash, public works would be in a better position to negotiate prices for dumping it somewhere else, Dunning said.
But if the new government chooses to outsource trash entirely, Dunning says they would be at the mercy of a for profit company. Some county officials don't see it the same way.
“The county chose years ago to privatize it and I don’t think there’s any looking back,” said County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards. “It has been far more cost effective.”
The city’s landfill doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. In June, state environmental regulators gave it a score of 50. 80 is passing. Public works is supposed to keep the trash covered with a layer of dirt, but with all the summer storms it just kept washing it away.
But you can't just blame the landfill's problems on the rain, said Clayton Bristol, environmental specialist with the state Environmental Protection Department.
“Erosion, garbage leaving the landfill, leachate, litter, standing water, exposed waste on the roadway -- these violations are long standing they didn’t just happen yesterday or the day before,” Bristol said.
Edwards says that handing all of the consolidated government's trash to a private company would help shake off negative attention to the city’s landfill.
“That probably is going to be a very contentious issues because you have some elected officials who believe that privatization is a bad word and that government should not take jobs away from public sector employees,” Edwards said.
Dunning insists that his department is up for the task. With the combined tax revenue of the city and county, he says he can buy the equipment needed to get the job done right.
“Have we messed up in the past? Oh, yes,” Dunning said. But he added that cities that get out of the trash business usually have to go private for good, even if they end up not liking it -- the start-up cost for a new public trash service is just too great.