DENVER — As Scott Mulvany practiced lacrosse with his son Burke outside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Denver, he recalled what other days have been like when it comes to simply taking out the trash.
“It’s definitely been a bit of an issue recently. You know it eventually gets picked up but not on a regular schedule – at least over the last several months," Mulvany said, sharing a story from the last trash pickup. “Yeah, we’d put it out on the normal scheduled day and then, you know, three days later, it was still there. So, I figured it wasn’t going to happen. Then I heard the truck, so I ran it out there, and the guys were super nice.”
He said his neighbor had made a call to 311, and that neighbor wasn't the only one in recent weeks.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) said the number of complaints categorized as “missed collections” for trash, received via 311 and the Utilities Online portal from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 is 8,191.
That number includes customers who reporting a missed collection due to a schedule change, called more than once or used multiple sources to make a report, and customers who forgot to put their carts out on time.
Labor shortages have not spared many industries at all, in part because of the pandemic, and that goes for some waste management companies, too.
Ramping up staffing levels
In July 2021, 9NEWS reported on the need for truck drivers under DOTI's Solid Waste Management Division.
Back then, they were recruiting 15 drivers, and had 1,738 missed pickup calls come into 311 in June.
It's unclear what the rate of calls has looked like leading up to the most recent number of calls, but the division is now looking to fill 29 of its 131 driver positions, according to a spokesperson.
On the division's most challenging staffing day, they may miss four out of 100 routes, which they're typically able to catch up on the next day.
That amounts to about 3,000 households they're catching up on within 24 to 48 hours, or 1.6% of 180,000 total customers, and the department has also implemented a new routing system in January, adding Fridays if needed to catch up on routes.
DOTI has been working to recruit more drivers, offering $2,500 signing bonuses and raising pay last year to current drivers based on total years of experience using a commercial driver's license.
It's important to note that DOTI does 724,000 trash collections a month.
The main message for trash collection customers, according to a spokesperson, is that if they set out their cart by 7 a.m. on the correct day and its not emptied, they should leave the cart out and they should collect it within 24 to 48 hours. If it's still not collected in 48 hours, call 311.
Patience is key
Mulvany said he doesn't blame the workers in this case and noted that the delays have occurred only recently.
“It used to be – if I didn’t have the cans out there at 7:05 a.m., it was like you’re too late, they were on it. Now, it might happen 3 in the afternoon – 8 o'clock at night one time," he said.
Mulvany acknowledged that labor shortages are taking a toll on many people.
“I definitely feel for the guys that are out there – how many hours they’re probably working. Few times they were picking up trash, 8:30 at night, you know those guys started pretty early,” Mulvany said. “I think it’s a challenge; we’re all going to continue to face as inflationary pressures continue to cause issues in the economy for what people need to make – to make enough money to be able to work those jobs, they gotta be paid better.”
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