News

Palmyra trash workers resign amid recycling uncertainty

Written by Merriell Moyer/The Lebanon Daily News | Oct 3, 2018 9:10 AM
Palmyra trash worker.JPG

Palmyra Borough employees pick up garbage in Palmyra Borough on Monday, July 11, 2016. (Jeremy Long/The Lebanon Daily News)

Palmyra's refuse collection workers have resigned from their positions thanks to an uncertain future brought on by the borough's recycling woes.

The three borough employees - all members of the highway/public works department dedicated to refuse collection - turned in their resignations in September and as of Oct. 1, the borough is without dedicated refuse collection. Members of the road crew will fill in until replacements can be hired. 

A possible layoff due to a potential change in how the borough handles its recycling program may have influenced their decision to seek employment elsewhere, according to Palmyra Borough Manager Roger Powl. 

"Our program benefits because we have Waste Management's recycling transfer station right here in the borough, so ... one of the drivers could take the refuse truck down to the landfill while the other two guys would go out and run around again for recycling," Powl said.

However, the scale at the recycling transfer station is broken and Waste Management may not replace it, according to Powl.

"It's a $50,000 to $70,000 replacement cost from what they told us," Powl said. "The rumor mill has it that they're probably going to be closing this facility and if that happens, it means we have to haul the recycling somewhere and there are hardly any places around here to do that."

Waste Management is an environmental solutions provider serving more than 21 million municipal, commercial and industrial customers in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website.

Waste Management allowed the borough to dump its recycling at their facility for free.

"They allow our trucks to dump there for free because we street sweep their parking lot and keep their lot clean, and that's a great benefit for us," said Powl.

Powl also cited the effect of China's recent ban on importing plastic waste from other countries as another reason for the borough's need to change its recycling program.

"When the Chinese made their decision to stop importing recycling from the United States it is a game changer," he said. "That has put a lot of pressure on the recycling market in the United States."

Reazer's Recycling, at 2449 Elias Ave. in Lebanon, is the closest option for recycling if the Waste Management transfer station closes, but its convenient location comes at a price, according to Powl.

"They charge $75 per ton to take recycling there," Powl said. "The only other option we have is to haul everything to Penn Waste's facility in Manchester (York County) and they charge $40 per ton."

To compensate for the added distance to haul the recycling, the borough would have to hire two additional workers so their two trucks could run simultaneously while still getting the recycling to either Lebanon or Manchester before the facility closed for the day.

That change would result in increased refuse removal prices for borough residents.

"The residents are currently paying $61 per quarter and my calculations had it going up to $76 to $77 per quarter depending on which option we chose for hauling recycling - that was just to keep everything in house," Powl said. "The only other option is to outsource it to a private hauler."

Before making a decision on whether or not to outsource, borough council decided to both get bids from private haulers and send out a customer satisfaction survey to see how the borough's residents felt about its refuse service.

"Council wanted to do the survey and go from there, but in the meantime - in between these last two (borough council) meetings - all three of our guys quit," Powl said. "We effectively have no trash guys right now, so our highway crew is picking up the trash."

Borough council considered switching over to a private hauler in 2015 and again in 2016, but voted to keep its own refuse hauling service in operation both times.

The borough is now trying to get a handle on the situation as quickly as possible before winter weather makes things more complicated.

"Our worry is that snow is just around the corner and we have nobody to do both jobs," said Powl.

The highway/public works department was reduced to a five-man crew after the three refuse collection workers resigned.

"I'll probably find myself on the back (of the trash truck) for a couple days here and there when we have vacations because we just don't have enough people to go around," Powl said.

Surveys, which were sent out with the quarterly trash, recycling and sewer bill, are still coming back, so the fate of the borough's refuse collection service is uncertain.

Palmyra trash workers.JPG

Palmyra Borough employees pick up garbage in Palmyra Borough on Monday, July 11, 2016. (Jeremy Long/The Lebanon Daily News)

"It seems like the town is split (on whether to keep it or outsource it) and I think council is split too," Powl said. "I think it is going to depend on what kind of response we get from the surveys and what kind of pricing we get from the private haulers that'll help make their decision. Until we see that I have no idea what's going to happen." 

The bids have been advertised and the borough is hoping for a bid opening Oct. 22.

"That will allow council to review (the bids) at the Oct. 23 meeting and I'm hoping they can make a decision then because we have the contract set up to start Nov. 1," Powl said. "Whether a hauler can actually start Nov. 1, I don't know, but it will at least allow them to rev up to relieve our guys."

As for the three refuse collection workers who resigned, Powl said he doesn't blame them for making the decision to leave.

"If I was in their position and you kind of see the writing on the wall that you might be losing your job and (with the current economy) you can get a job paying $3 or $4 more per hour and maybe not have as much physical labor involved - who wouldn't do that?" he said.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News. 

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