Shawnee City Council airs frustrations over trash collection issues, including pickup delays

Shawnee trash

There are no new changes coming to Shawnee's Tidy Town bulky item pickup program, but city leaders questioned why some residents have experienced a reduction in the quality and frequency of pickup services, including for yard waste, bulky items and recycling. File photo.

Shawnee city officials say they have received mixed feedback from residents since making significant changes to the city’s Tidy Town bulky item pickup program last year.

That was the gist of a discussion Monday night between the Shawnee City Council and city staff, who reviewed the Tidy Town program and went over areas of concern that could be improved.

Caitlin Gard, assistant city manager, said the city has “gotten overwhelming positive response”since the city made changes to the Tidy Town program last year.

Instead of an annual event occurring in the spring, residents now schedule an individual pickup time with their trash hauler. This spreads the annual pickups throughout the year.

Still, some residents say they continue to experience some problems with a lack of timely pickup of yard waste and bulky items, as well as a reduction in the frequency of curbside recycling pickup services.

On Monday, some councilmembers said they had also noticed a reduction in the quality and frequency of services from some trash haulers, including significant delays in yard waste pickup.

Additionally, some trash haulers in recent months moved to an every-other-week curbside recycling pickup schedule instead of weekly pickup without reducing the cost of services.

“I don’t want to make any one company look bad, and all I can do is speak from my personal experience,” said Councilmember Kurt Knappen, “but I’ve been here 20 years, and I’ve got to say that I’ve been very frustrated with our trash service just over the last year.”

Industry-wide staffing shortages causing problems

Photo of TIdy Town courtesy city of Shawnee.

City staff and representatives with Waste Management, the private trash hauler that owns and operates the Johnson County Landfill located at Holliday Drive and I-435 in Shawnee, said the industry is experiencing a workforce shortage stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as rising costs and changes in the market for recyclable materials.

These challenges have forced trash haulers to make permanent or temporary service changes, including delays in yard waste pickup and a reduction in the frequency of curbside recycling pickup.

‘“I don’t think there’s been any question about the fact that the industry has struggled for several years for drivers,” said Paul Howe, a representative of Waste Management, who spoke Monday.

He noted that the company has increased driver pay, offered full college tuition and expanded other benefits to attract and retain employees.

“We know that the ultimate penalty, if you will, is if and when we lose that customer, because once we lose them, it’s typically very, very difficult to get back,” he said. “So it certainly is in our best interest to make sure that we’re doing the best job that we possibly can.”

Shawnee to keep competition without citywide trash hauler contract

Councilmember Kurt Knappen and other city leaders expressed frustration with the drop in quality of trash hauling services in recent months.

Five trash haulers are registered to operate in the solid waste and recycling collection program in Shawnee. Residents have their own contracts with trash haulers.

The city serves as a liaison between residents and trash haulers and does not offer a citywide contract with one trash hauler to allow competition.

Most councilmembers said they wanted to continue allowing competition and had no interest in pursuing a citywide contract, while some said they wanted to avoid creating unnecessary or burdensome regulations for trash haulers in the midst of correcting some hopefully temporary challenges in the industry.

Citing complaints from residents about the drop in frequency of services, Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell said she would like to see the city establish standards for the frequency in yard waste pickup.

She also said she hopes the city could consider getting involved in negotiating trash hauling rates for residents.

“I think we should think really seriously about price transparency,” Larson-Bunnell said. “It’s very, very difficult to figure out a way to get price transparency when we’re saying, ‘Well, it’s up to every single resident to navigate this themselves.’ I totally understand not wanting to have a single provider and that we want to have the competition, and I think all that is great, but our residents are in a really bad position to be able to negotiate.”

A recording of the meeting is below and on the city website. Discussion begins at 1:11:06.