A run-down dresser with a missing drawer sits perched atop a blanket of tree branches in a neighborhood off 300 South and 800 East. It’s one of the smaller piles across the city, but neighbor Peter Conover said “it seems to be growing” — though the mattress that was there before has recently disappeared.
Salt Lake City’s new bulk waste pickup program, Call2Haul, was touted as a way to crack down on this illegal dumping. But one month in, trash continues to pile on streets across the city, and residents who do want to go through the proper channels are experiencing long wait times.
“A lot of the illegal dumping that occurs was hidden in prior years in the old neighborhood cleanup program,” said Lance Allen, Salt Lake City’s waste and recycling division director. “So when we go into an area we’d clean out everything, whether it’s an illegal pile out in front of the house or [whatever] it was.”
Now that the program is limited to specifically prescheduled addresses, Allen said the illegal dumping may be more visible — but it’s likely not more prevalent than in the past. The city has received 32 reports so far in 2018 compared to 48 in the same time period last year, he said.
The old curbside program was loved in some neighborhoods but became a problem in others, mostly with illegal dumping on the west side. That endangered storm water and environmental quality and created a flooding hazard as items blocked the drains, according to Sophia Nicholas, the communications director for Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department.
“The intention of [Neighborhood Cleanup] was always to be that bulky waste service that was for items that didn’t fit in the containers, but people just used it as an opportunity to dump trash on the street,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Even though we had restrictions on the types of material that people could put out for neighborhood cleanup, it was very difficult to actually enforce that.”
The vast majority of people are complying with the new system, Allen said, and the city has been working to address the garbage of those who aren’t.
“It does put us in a tough spot, you know, with removing it and offenders believe that that’s acceptable behavior or leaving it in place and creating a health hazard in addition to that eyesore,” he said.
Most of the dumping is happening in areas where it can’t be traced back to a particular individual, like in parking strips, outside apartment complexes or in fields.
But at least one City Council member is ready to dump the new program.
“The near-unanimous negative constituent complaints I’ve received about Call 2 Haul’s decreased constituent service are enough for me to call for its discontinuation and a return to the City’s original neighborhood clean up program,” Councilman Charlie Luke posted on Facebook. “As part of a return to the successful neighborhood clean up, I will support additional funding for a rapid response crew to deal with illegal dumping issues throughout the City.”
In a follow-up post on Friday, Luke said, “I’ve heard from no one (outside of City administration) coming to the defense of Call 2 Haul. I would really like to hear from anyone who has used the new service and still believes it to be superior to the traditional neighborhood cleanup.”
The city’s changes to its Neighborhood Cleanup program followed a survey last summer that received more than 4,000 responses and in which the new program was the choice of 49 percent of respondents out of four options.
The new program offers residents the opportunity to schedule year-round pickups. Under the old system, the city would assign different areas a pickup time whether it worked with a person’s schedule or not. But now, residents can schedule one pickup a year, which for the first time includes up to four car tires and electronic waste.
Tiffany Young, a Salt Lake City resident who lives near 800 East, was frustrated when she missed the city-assigned bulk garbage pickup date in her neighborhood back in 2015. Though Young hasn’t tried the new program yet, she thinks that old system might have been preferable.
“In the past, with a set date, I could plan ahead,” she said. “Now I need to make an appointment for my trash. It takes me months to make an appointment to get my hair cut or change the oil in my car. Planning my trash’s schedule is just one more thing I’ll never get around to doing.”
Long wait times to actually get a pickup date on the calendar have also caused frustration for some residents.
Sarah Johansen, who lives in the Sugar House neighborhood, said she called the city to set up a trash pickup date on June 21 — three days after appointments opened. But six weeks later, she still doesn’t have a time set up to get rid of her old barbecue grill and a pile of other garbage.
“It was kind of a pain to have junk in front of people’s houses for a week, but it was one week and then it was gone, so it wasn’t a problem,” Johansen said of the old program. “Right now I’m frustrated because I do have stuff I want picked up and I would like them to come get it.”
Allen acknowledged the backlog, noting that the city has received over 1,800 pickup requests and has people working overtime and weekends to get caught up. Residents who are calling to schedule now are automatically being assigned an October pickup date, he said.
And though some have called for the city to go back to its old program, Allen said he thinks it’s too soon to say the new one won’t be a success.
“We’ve got to remember why we went down this road,” he said. “One was because of the illegal dumping issues that we’re still experiencing in some cases. And two was the impact on the environment… I don’t think going back to something that has a negative impact on the environment and [was] still creating these illegal piles we’re seeing now would make sense.”