Customers confused by Arrow’s new garbage, recycling services

Thousands of roll carts stacked in the Arrow Refuse yard in Lemon Creek. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau’s garbage collection and recycling landscape is about to change.

Arrow Refuse – the state regulated garbage hauling company – will roll out a new automated trash pickup service for residential customers in June. At the same time the company plans to start offering curbside recycling for an additional fee.

The changes are confusing some Arrow customers, who just received notice in the mail last week. Casey Kelly has more.

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Longtime Juneau resident Nancy Waterman returned from an out of state trip this week to find a pile of mail, including an April 20th letter from Arrow Refuse.

“Telling me that I needed to make a decision by April 30th about the new service, picking up both trash and also the opportunity to pick up recyclables every other week,” Waterman says.

If she takes no action, the letter says Arrow will automatically transition Waterman to something comparable to her current service. The alternatives include 48-gallon or 96-gallon roll cart service, with different prices for the Standard or Blue Zone, as well as the new recycling program.

A longtime recycling proponent, Waterman had some questions.

“What’s their definition of the ‘Blue Zone?’ In the letter there was no definition and there was no map,” says Waterman. “And also, what would be the change in my monthly fee? Do I have the option of signing up for curbside recyclables, or is it required?”

Some of the questions are answered by calling Arrow Refuse or visiting its website. For instance, recycling is optional, and the Blue Zone encompasses downtown Juneau.

“But still that was a little bit incomplete,” says Waterman. “So for example, if I decided to buy my own can, what are the dimensions of the can so that it perfectly fits with the Arrow Refuse truck? And where are the suppliers that provide this can?”

Arrow to charge roll cart rental fee

About 9,000 brand new roll carts sit in neatly stacked rows outside the Arrow Refuse office in Lemon Creek, waiting to be distributed to residential customers later this month. General Manager Jeff Riley demonstrates the gravity-lock lid, which he says conforms to the City and Borough of Juneau’s bear-resistant garbage ordinance.

“It’s got a turnkey so the customer can get in it and put in their garbage – automatically relocks,” Riley says, opening and shutting the can. “When we come to service it, as this thing tips over and inverts – automatically releases. Then when it comes back to rest, it’s already locked again.”

The roll carts are designed to be compatible with Arrow’s new fleet of garbage trucks, which use a mechanical arm to pick up and dump containers of trash.

Starting in June, Riley says Arrow will no longer collect refuse from traditional garbage cans. Customers can rent a roll cart from the company for a monthly fee of $2.75 or $2.95, depending on the size of can. You can buy your own, but the exact model isn’t sold in Juneau. The company will charge $2.35 if the driver has to get out of the truck to dump the can himself.

Riley says the move to automated service is a nationwide trend.

“This is really the standard in the industry,” he says. “This has been happening in most communities over the last twenty years.”

He says the service is more efficient, and allows Arrow to lower its rate for curbside garbage pickup. Customers outside downtown – in what’s called the Standard Zone – may pay less than their current rate, even with the monthly container rental fee. Charges for the Blue Zone are about the same. Riley says two different rates are needed, because the service can’t be fully automated downtown, due to the hills and narrow streets.

The optional recycling service will cost $3.11 a month and be available city-wide. A separate 96-gallon roll cart comes with the service, to be picked up every two weeks as opposed to once a week for trash. All types of paper, cardboard, metal cans and plastic containers will be accepted, but not glass or hardbound books.

Riley says Arrow Refuse sees a need for curbside recycling in Juneau.

“We won’t make money off it,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do, though. It’s absolutely the right thing to do for this community. Not until that landfill was full would people completely appreciate how much the cost would increase to getting rid of their garbage.”

City fielding calls about service change

The city has been trying to increase recycling in order extend the life of the landfill, currently estimated at about 23 years.

But Arrow’s decision to offer curbside recycling has led to some confusion, according to CBJ Public Works Director Kirk Duncan. He says the city has received dozens of calls since customers got Arrow’s letter in the mail.

“The confusion just is, is CBJ’s source-separated program going away? And the answer is, no it is not,” says Duncan.

In fact, Duncan says the recycling center at the landfill will expand as soon as the city works out a deal with operator Waste Management.

Downtown resident Nancy Waterman says many recycling advocates would prefer to have all materials separated, because they’re worth more on the recyclables market. But she understands that Arrow’s comingled curbside program is easier and could lead more people to recycle. Waterman hasn’t decided whether she’ll take the service.

“I think a consumer can make a big difference, and so taking a little time to make a decision is a good idea,” she says.

Arrow Refuse has extended the deadline for customers to choose a service level until May 18th. The company’s Jeff Riley says he’s confident that once the programs get up and running, it will appear mostly seamless to customers.

“It’s going to be like a duck,” Riley says. “We’re just going to be smooth on top, and we’re going to be paddling like heck underneath.”

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska decides how much Arrow can charge for its services. It’s temporarily allowed the company to move ahead with the rate changes for automated garbage collection. Arrow must do a cost of service study in 2013 then file for a permanent rate in 2014. The RCA does not oversee collection of recyclables, so Arrow could choose to change that rate whenever it wants.

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