It won’t be much longer before Dean Butler never has to handle another dirty, stinky, possibly dangerous bag of garbage again, unless it’s his own.
Now that the City of Mount Pearl is extending its automated garbage project citywide (starting Tuesday), operators like Butler won’t be exposed to sharp objects, hazardous materials or the injuries associated with the job, say project officials.
Gerry Antle, director of the city’s infrastructure and public works department, said while he doesn’t have official stats, garbage collection is one of the areas of city work that generates a lot of injury claims.
He said employees will be safer with the automated system. A mechanical arm on the side of the garbage truck lifts specialized covered carts filled with bags of household waste and then returns them to the curb.
Butler has been an operator for about two years with Mount Pearl and was one of the first people to be trained using the mechanical arm and cart tipper, installed on the left-hand side of the truck designed for one-way streets.
“It’s great on a day like this,” said the 48-year-old as rain pelted off the cab of his truck.
Inside was warm and dry and Eric Clapton music played in the background as Butler operated the arm’s joysticks like a kid glued to a video game.
On this day he still had to pick up bags of garbage, but after Tuesday, when the remaining 9,400 carts are rolled out, flinging bags will be a thing of the past.
“The best thing about these cans: it protects us from the glass in some bags, and boards with nails sticking out of it,” said Butler.
“In the summer time when it is hot, you got maggots crawling over the bags and you got to physically pick up the bags. With this there is none of that. It’s more sanitary for us and easier on the body.”
Eric Arsenault, works superintendent with the infrastructure and public works department, said the $1.3-million project started about four months ago in two areas of the city.
“We haven’t had any problems. It’s win-win — cleaner, neater, a lot easier on operators, and the alternative is mounds of garbage covered in blankets and nets with a mess sometimes strewn around the city by animals,” said Arsenault.
The most negative feedback he’s received is from residents who are concerned about how it will work in the winter.
On Friday, as this Telegram reporter chased the truck around, one resident who has been part of the project since the beginning said he shares the same concerns about Newfoundland winters.
“We think it’s great,” said Leo May of Mortimer Drive.
“In the beginning we thought it was going to be bit of a problem, mainly in the winter, but the more I look at it I don’t think so now,” said May as he wheeled his cart from the driveway.
“We get lots of snow, but I think it will work out. There’s going to be some obstacles in the snow, but there always is, even with the regular bags,” he sad.
Wayne Rideout lives on Graham Place and has been using the new cart system since it started. He thinks it’s ideal.
“For us, there’s only two of us in the house and quite often we don’t have to put it out every week with a larger bucket. It’s very convenient and easy to handle. There’s no mess on the street, no nets to worry about. It’s been good,” he said.
Arsenault said every household gets one 95-gallon cart which holds five or six bags of garbage. There is a $20 annual fee.
The carts — and there will be about 9,800 of them on the streets of Mount Pearl in the coming days — cost $100 each. They can withstand 97-kilometre-an-hour winds and each one has an electronic chip which enables the city to track it and determine if and when it has been dumped.
He said there are about 460 in circulation now and the rest of them are on 20 tractor-trailers destined for the city.
Butler said people are anxious to become part of the new garbage pickup system.
“They’re asking me all the time, ‘When am I getting my can?’ One man said to me it was the best money the city ever spent,” he said.
During last week’s council meeting, Coun. John Walsh, chairman of the infrastructure and public works committee, said a public campaign is underway to let people know what to do. He said garbage collection day remains the same, garbage still has to be bagged before it goes in the cart and it has to be put at curbside, just as before.
The only difference is the cart has to be placed on a flat area, the arrows on it must point towards the street and room must be left around the cart for it to be picked up properly.
Walsh also suggested people use a permanent marker to print their address on the inside of the cover.
For further information go to the city’s website mountpearl.ca.