Two Baltimore City Council members have a message for the city’s public works director: resume full weekly recycling pickup in the next eight weeks or resign.
Councilmembers Zeke Cohen and Isaac Yitzy Schleifer on Monday sent a letter to Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell, highlighting residents’ frustration with biweekly recycling pickup and calling for the resumption of a weekly pickup schedule.
“Last week, your agency missed a deadline to produce a plan, with a clear timeline, to restart this essential service,” Schleifer and Cohen wrote. “Today, we will offer our own timeline: If you cannot begin to resume full weekly recycling pickup within the next eight weeks, we will call for your resignation as DPW administrator.”
In a report released Jan. 6, DPW said the biweekly pickup has helped limit strain on employees.
“DPW’s temporary decision to move to biweekly recycling maintains the department’s commitment to equity in all we do,” the agency said in its report. “By doing so, DPW has maintained in Calendar Year 2022, a 99.99% route completion target. Biweekly recycling reduces the strain on our workforce while lowering the barriers to environmental stewardship and accommodating all city residents who want to participate in the program.”
DPW officials said they want to return to weekly recycling in an “effective and sustainable” way with the assistance of RUBICONSmartCity software, which will help them digitize and optimize routes.
“Although there is no firm timeline for the change back to weekly recycling, because of pending trucks being delivered and contractor availability, Rubicon’s technology, combined with the department’s internal changes, presents a path forward,” DPW said in its Jan. 6 report.
They added that they plan to increase their staffing capacity by providing more Commercial Driver’s License training, ramping up recruitment, providing more competitive salaries, and increasing its fleet of trucks.
Baltimore’s current recycling routes are 101% larger than the industry standard, according to the report. To address that disparity, the department is “rightsizing” its recycling routes to make the currently oversized routes more manageable.
Cohen and Schleifer also criticized the communication about E. coli water contamination in West Baltimore around Labor Day, as well as issues with the accuracy of water bill statements.
The council members acknowledged the “heroic commitment” of the city’s sanitation workers, and said the city must do better to pay competitive wages.
They also criticized the “Clean Corps” initiative that was launched last year.
“Spending $15,000,000 on a ‘Clean Corps’ program which outsources waste disposal and cleanup to private citizens and neighborhood groups is an insult to our employees and to the residents who pay for city services,” the councilmembers wrote. “We should not expend limited city resources on new, unproven programs when our own workers are underpaid, and we are not performing basic agency services.”
Cohen and Schleifer called on the agency to provide a “significant raise” and address occupational health conditions of sanitation workers; fill gaps with contractors until the workforce is fully staffed; and reduce wait times by increasing the capacity of the Northwest Transfer Station and establishing the Eastern Waste Transfer Station.