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Trash should be collected on Thursdays in the Woodcrest neighborhood of Cherry Hill, where Fred Linden lives.
But the trash he put out last week stayed in front of his house for seven days.
Linden said that there have been intermittent collections with Republic Services — the trash company that services the township — since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the problem has become worse in the last several weeks, he said
“In many ways, it’s very frustrating and very annoying that I’m paying a lot of money in taxes to the township of Cherry Hill,” he said. “I have to meet my obligations, and I expect somebody else to meet their obligations as well. And we’re not getting basic services from the township of Cherry Hill that we’re paying for.”
The problem is not limited to Cherry Hill – other communities serviced by Republic Services tell WHYY News they are also having problems.
In Burlington County, Delran Mayor Gary Catrambone said his township tried to replace the company as their trash vendor late last year, citing missed collections and delays. But Republic was the only trash company to respond to their proposal request. The township is paying considerably more under the new contract; $822,030 this year, a 79% increase over the previous contract. The price goes up again next year, in excess of $900,000.
“They said that they were losing money on our township,” Catrambone said. “When they rebid it, they were the only bidder and they increased it to, I guess, what they felt was fair and profitable.”
But Catrambone said the service has gone down since the contract was signed — beyond the occasional missed block.
“It’s been whole sections of town, half the pick up for the day, because of the variety of reasons that are always going to be addressed as quickly as they can,” he said.
The new contract includes fines for not collecting trash in a timely manner. Delran has fined the company $52,425 between February and June.
Willingboro Township has also fined the company based on its contract, according to spokeswoman Tanya Jackson. Mayor Kaya McIntosh informed residents last week that the company would send a special response team to catch up on collections over the recent holiday weekend.
“While we are grateful for Republic Services’ efforts to pick up uncollected trash and get back on schedule over the holiday weekend, we expect all our vendors to execute their contracts entirely and efficiently,” Jackson said.
Representatives from Cinnaminson and Medford Township have also said they have had service issues with Republic in recent weeks.
A microcosm of bigger issues in the industry and the country
In a statement, Republic Services has blamed the service shortcomings on staffing challenges, similar to many other industries, adding they “are always recruiting and hiring great people to join our team.”
Attracting and retaining workers is not just limited to one company, according to David Biderman, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America.
“There is definitely intense competition for workers,” he said, adding that many blue collar workers are reconsidering their work-life balance. “You’ve got Amazon out there offering higher wages [and] a number of other employers who are potential employers for these workers.”
With refuse and recyclable collectors making a median salary of $38,500, Biderman said the association encourages companies like Republic to offer more competitive compensation packages to retain workers.
He adds that the industry has been experiencing labor shortages since the start of the pandemic.
“When there is a rise in COVID cases, solid waste providers are short on labor,” he said, adding that COVID-related shortages have subsided as workers get vaccinated.
Then, there are equipment issues.
Eric Schubiger, Cinnaminson’s township administrator, said Republic Services cited that as the reason for his township’s trash collection woes.
Bidderman said many equipment issues can be traced back to supply chain issues.
“If somebody wants to order a new garbage truck today, they are not going to receive it until sometime in early to mid 2023,” he said. “I attended the biggest national trade show in the industry called WasteExpo … and in May, they were telling me that if you want a new garbage truck right now, you’re going to get it in 7 to 10 months at the earliest.”
Trying to solve the problem
As of Thursday morning, Fred Linden’s trash was finally picked up by “a small Republic truck.” However, no one else on his block had their trash collected, according to him.
“This does not solve the problem,” Linden said.
The township is looking into it, according to Chris Summerhayes, Cherry Hill’s director of planning, policy and programs. Overall, he said officials are disappointed in Republic’s performance.
“We understand the frustrations that many Cherry Hill residents have; it is unacceptable,” he said. “[The] mayor and council are working tirelessly to fix the issue.”
Summerhayes said the township is looking to take over yard waste collection for Republic, so it can concentrate on trash and recycle collection. For the last couple of weeks, he adds, the township has been running certain routes to “pick up the slack from Republic.”
“We don’t have the ideal equipment for that currently, although we are looking to purchase that equipment,” Summerhayes said. “Alternatively, we are looking at communicating with other municipalities and other contractors to see if there’s any excess labor and truck availability to pick up that slack.”
He adds “all options are on the table” in order to get collections services back to normal.
Delran Mayor Catrambone is also looking at all available solutions.
“We’re reaching out to consultants that might help us to figure out a way to do a shared service or people that might be able to provide other options,” he said.
Catrambone added that he has reached out to Burlington County officials before Fourth of July weekend to see if they can help. The county has received the letter, according to spokesman David Levinsky, but the Board of Commissioners have yet to discuss it.
“Everybody understands that there’s supply chain issues and that there are workforce issues [and] CDL driver issues, that’s all over the place,” he said. “But they have a contract with us that they’re obligated to keep up and try to achieve the level of service that they’ve provided in the contract.”