After one year of implementation, the city of Denison is finding success in its automated trash pickup program.


The program was first implemented on April 1, 2019 as part of an effort to increase efficiency, modernize and add value to the city’s solid waste pick up service.


“I think it has gone really well,” City Manager Jud Rex said Monday. “We had committed to come back after a year and talk about the program, what’s gone well, and what adjustments have been made.”


The change over to automated garbage trucks was first discussed by the city as a part of its 2018 budget retreat. During the meeting, city staff proposed moving to trash vehicles that would utilize an automated arm to pick up trash bins and empty them directly into the track without the assistance of a worker on foot.


Through this transition, the city was able to redistribute the temporary workers who traditionally would ride on the back and load trash into the trucks. The city was able to reallocate these workers to other tasks, primarily the city’s bulk and brush pick up services, which were increased from quarterly pickups to monthly.


The transition also allowed the city to move from requiring six temporary workers to only four for its solid waste services.


In addition to reducing staffing, the new vehicles also were better equipped to compact trash, resulting in less trips to the landfill.


“I think what surprised us the most is that it has reduced significantly the number of trips we are taking to the landfill, so there is a lot of added savings,” Rex said. “We anticipated some of that, but these larger trucks and their ability to compact has been tremendous as far as savings go.”


Assistant Public Works Director Carrie Jones said it was difficult to put a dollar value on the city’s cost savings, but said the majority of it comes from these reduced trips.


Under the previous system, trucks were required to drive to the landfill five times a week per truck. Under the new system this has been reduced to about three times per week.


With each round trip adding up to about 50 miles, Jones said the city has saved about 15,000 miles of wear and tear on the vehicles under the new system.


When the city adopted the new system, it invested about $1.6 million in acquiring three new automated trucks, retrofitting two existing trucks to serve the bulk and brush program, and new carts for the city’s solid waste customers.


Jones said the addition of the new trucks likely resulted in more cost savings as they had reduced maintenance costs simply due to their age.


“The maintenance of these trucks, since they are brand new, is very minimal at this point,” she said. “So, from a maintenance standpoint, we have also saved money by having newer trucks.”


Both Rex and Jones said there were some growing pains with the program, but educational campaigns helped alleviate the issues quickly.


Among the early issues that the city encountered were questions regarding the schedule for brush and bulk waste pick up.


In addition to granting some flexibility early on, the city worked to offer education, rather than penalties, as residents adjusted to the new system.


“Change is difficult, especially when you are talking about a trash routine that has been in the city for a long time, Rex said.”


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.