116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — A garbage collector emptying trash cans into the back of a truck may become a thing of the past in Marion as the City Council prepares to launch a study of how household and yard waste is gathered — including using automation.
Although many cities have switched to an automated arm on a garbage truck to pick up and empty cans, Marion’s remains manual. Each of the city’s waste collectors slings cans from 400 to over 500 houses every weekday.
Bryan Casey has been on the job for 17 years. His Tuesday route, which he has been on for almost a decade, takes him through a neighborhood off S. 22nd Street.
“I like taking care of older people. If I know they’ve broken a hip or they’re sick, I’ll try to take the cans to the garage door. When you get to know the people, you want to try and take care of them,” Casey said as he drove down Hillview Drive, stopping at each house along the way to grab the waste and recycling cans and quickly fling their contents into the correct compartments before driving to the next stop.
The City Council is scheduled to consider a $135,500 contract for its waste study with SCS Engineers during its meeting Thursday. The study would look at the system over the next six to eight months, Public Works Director Ryan Miller said. It will examine how waste is collected, the efficiency of routes, what services the city could add, as well as its current facilities.
“A lot of this process will be a public outreach process that will include residential surveys and public meetings in an effort to get the feedback,” Miller said. “It really all depends on how much public engagement we get, and we’re hoping for quite a bit.”
Miller said that residents have previously shared the want for automated collection, curbside leaf collection and organic diversion of food waste, which will all be looked at in the upcoming study.
Currently, the city provides manual collection of refuse, recycles and yard waste. It also has a yard waste facility and recycling drop-off center, located at 195 35th St.
The current collection rate is $18.75 per month for residential service. The projected rate for next year is $20, which would generate about $200,000 in additional revenue per year — but the study also will be looking at city budgets and rates.
Most cities with manual collection have two people in a garbage truck: one to drive and one to collect. But each truck in Marion has only one person doing both. Each operator collects 5 to 8 tons of material per day.
“These guys get after it,” Miller said. “Our system is unique and we really don’t know the outcome of this study right now, but it will be interesting to see where we go from here.”
Miller said any changes made in the future won’t affect the amount of staffers, even if it means going down to fewer trucks if they have automated arms. Currently, the Public Works Department has about 40 workers in road use, sewer and solid waste.
“Nobody loses a job over this,” Miller said. “We are looking for ways to improve services. I think the most important thing is to be objective and collect the data and evaluate that data at the end.”
Deputy Director John Hughes said he’s most interested to see if automated collection is the recommendation made from the study.
“It won’t affect our staffing and a lot of this is based on services people want to see here in town,” Hughes said. “Seniority wise, most of my garbage guys are near the top. They’ve been here the longest.”
Casey, the longtime garbage collector, typically comes in early to check the truck, around 6:30 a.,.m.
“You have to check the fuel and tires. You can’t just jump in your truck, otherwise you’re asking for trouble,” he said.
In Marion, once collectors complete their routes, they can go home for the day and clock the eight hours. As a highly-experienced member of the staff, Casey said he usually finishes a little after noon.
But Casey said his favorite part of the job over the years has been getting to know the neighborhoods and talking with folks.
“I like the labor and I like the talking to people,” Casey said. “They take care of me, too. If it’s hot, I’ll get some water or snacks from folks. On Fridays, there’s a guy who always has a sandwich, pop and candy bar for me. I don’t do anything extra for him. He just does it. … They just have all gotten to know me over here.”
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