When trash service goes bad in Colorado Springs, you're kind of on your own – Colorado Springs Gazette

Trash collector Randy Simpson rides the back of a Green For Life garbage truck while his crew follow its near Colorado College Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
GFL worker Randy Simpson unloads a garbage can while picking up trash from a home near Colorado College while on his crew’s route Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
City of Colorado Springs Quality of Life Team members clean up the trash left at a homeless camp near Valley Hi Golf Course and Spring Creek Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Reporter
Trash collector Randy Simpson rides the back of a Green For Life garbage truck while his crew follow its near Colorado College Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
GFL worker Randy Simpson unloads a garbage can while picking up trash from a home near Colorado College while on his crew’s route Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
City of Colorado Springs Quality of Life Team members clean up the trash left at a homeless camp near Valley Hi Golf Course and Spring Creek Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
A number of thin lines exist to keep civilization from descending into chaos.
One of those lines is made of trash.
The adage “out of sight, out of mind” has never been more pertinent than when applied to our garbage, which Americans produce at an average 4.9 pounds per person, per day.
“Who wants to even think about their trash? You want to put it out there and you want it to go away so you can put some more out there next week,” said Scott Saunders, owner of Carefree Disposal in Colorado Springs.
But what happens when the trash stops magically disappearing from our curbs and alleys, because the company we hired to pick up our refuse isn’t doing its job?
That’s when things can get really messy, especially in a city that doesn’t issue permits for trash collection companies and therefore has no teeth to make them do their job.
The complaints from Colorado Springs residents on social media this summer were endless:
“Now it’s been two WEEKS since they’ve shown up. We have made calls and left messages and have not heard back.”
“Rats and raccoons are getting into my bins and I don’t have anywhere else to put it.”
“Anyone know where to turn? The city must have oversight of these companies”
In Denver, Arvada and Manitou Springs trash companies have accountability. 
In Colorado Springs, as many residents learned this year, when trash service goes bad you’re kind of on your own.
“Unfortunately, that relationship between the customer and the hauler is a private contract of which the city is not a part,” said Neighborhood Services Manager Mitchel Hammes. “We don’t have any influence or capability to make the trash haulers do anything.”
At any given time, trucks and crews from a half-dozen operations are trolling the streets of Colorado Springs collecting trash and recycling. The city doesn’t tell residents which company to pick, only that they must keep their property trash-free: choose a service provider or dispose of waste themselves at the dump.
Worker shortages that have impacted the spectrum of businesses during the pandemic came at a time when two long-time local companies were transitioning to new, corporate ownership. Hammes said that, over the summer, his department saw a dramatic spike in calls from residents complaining about repeated missed pickups and billing issues, primarily from customers of Waste Connections, which last year absorbed Springs Waste Systems, and GFL Environmental, which acquired Bestway Disposal in 2019.
“I can tell you, calls were coming in from all over the city,” said Hammes. He could only issue answers that failed to satisfy.
Neighborhood Services has crews it will dispatch to clean up homeless camps and handle abatements and other city maintenance issues. The city charter, however, prohibits crews from picking up trash that a disposal company should have, but didn’t.
“The only advice I’ve been giving out when people are calling us saying, ‘Hey my trash haulers aren’t picking up,’ is ‘Find a different trash hauler that will,’” Hammes said.
Some no doubt did, and that may be why the volume of complaint calls to his office have dwindled significantly.
Anecdotally, it also seems as though the companies that had been struggling to keep up (and answer the phone when customers call) have found a groove. Waste Connections, for one, has announced it will be ending service in Cascade, Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Woodland Park effective December 3, to focus on service to customers in Monument, Fountain, Falcon and Colorado Springs.
Hammes said he’s sensing an encouraging trend; good news for the city and those who can only do so much to keep it clean, safe and beautiful.
“I’m hoping that things got better for them, that the (companies) figured out the problems,” Hammes said.
It’s also possible that residents realized the city couldn’t help, and stopped calling.
The southern Front Range isn’t the only area to feel the impacts of driver shortages and pandemic pivots on their trash service.
Trash and recycling pickup is handled by a single company in the City of Denver, which recently announced that, for the first time in more than 15 years, starting in 2022 it would begin new pickup schedules and driver routes in response to a shortage in drivers and other “pandemic challenges,” according to the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Richard Skorman has pushed, for years, for the city to adopt a similar model, that would allow it to address any failings in such a vital public service. The pushback has always been stronger.
“In Colorado Springs, the city government and the county I would say, too, they have always been resistant to doing our own garbage disposal program like other cities do.
There’s a feeling that they don’t want to interfere with the private marketplace,” said Skorman, who is resigning at the end of the year to focus on running his downtown businesses.
He understands that perspective, as a business owner. As a civic leader, for him, it doesn’t fly.
The current model is hard on the roads and environment, and doesn’t allow the city to capitalize on recycling programs, he said. When residential garbage doesn’t get picked up, it can easily become part of the trash albatross the city already can’t control.
“We have a lot of litter in the city. Some of it’s the homeless, some of it is people being careless, but (recently) a lot of it I think is the trash hauling and the lack of it. It’s people not getting the service that they need, and we’ve gotten a bad reputation for that,” Skorman said.
Trash pollutes parks and waterways, and left to linger in bins can lead to the kind of human-wildlife encounters that, three years ago, led to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers putting down more than 30 bears, he said.
“And it’s embarrassing. We depend on tourism. We attract businesses and people here because of our great quality of life and our beautiful backdrop. And we have garbage everywhere,” said Skorman. He said he too fielded waves of complaints about trash collection starting this summer, and had to explain to residents why the city’s hands were effectively tied.
“When there are complaints, there needs to be some kind of a system where we can be able to hold them accountable,” he said. “Even though it is a private hauler, it’s a public service.”
And in the Springs, a public service field open to any entrepreneur who wants to hang a sign.
In March, Scott Saunders and his business partner, Darrel Stutzman did just that, opening Carefree Disposal with four employees, several of whom had previously worked at the former Bestway Disposal.
“People don’t go looking for a new pickup company unless there’s something going wrong,” said Saunders, who, like Stutzman, was born and raised in the Springs. “We’re just like everybody else. We have friends and neighbors who live here, plus we live here. Our trash service went to pot, so we bought some trash cans and bought some trucks and started telling our friends and neighbors, and they started telling their friends and neighbors, and here we are.”
Carefree now has 15 employees, servicing neighborhoods from Woodmen Road south and Powers Boulevard west, with five “smaller” trucks that are “less invasive in the neighborhood and easier on the roadways.” That means more trips to the dump, but Saunders said the trade off is worth it.
While Saunders said it seems “unusual” for a city not to consider trash and recycling a municipal service, he thinks the system — generally speaking — works.
“If you’re in one of these cities that has a municipal trash service, what do you do if something goes wrong? You have no choice,” he said. “You can go out there, choose from several different companies, and if something goes wrong, you can leave.”
Assuming, of course, you can get them on the phone.
Reporter
Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.
{{description}}
Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

source