The city of Asheville has its hotels and district elections. For Buncombe County, the hot-button topic of the moment is trash. Nine residents spoke at the Oct. 1 meeting of the Board of Commissioners about the county’s new agreement with residential waste collection contractor Waste Pro, the second consecutive meeting at which the issue was on the agenda.
All of the commenters were critical of the contract, which requires customers to use Waste Pro-provided carts for their trash and recycling. The majority of their concerns centered on the weight and size of the newly mandated receptacles, as well as the difficulty of maneuvering and placing the carts along precipitous rural terrain.
“If you look at me, how am I going to handle one of these carts on a gravel driveway, like 500 feet?” asked one 83-year-old resident, gesturing at her own slight frame. “This is not a nice city lawn or something like that. This is the country! I don’t know what people were thinking of.”
John Hoffman, who lives in the Broad River community southeast of Black Mountain, also said the agreement didn’t recognize the realities of county life outside city limits. He and most of his neighbors currently take their bagged trash to collection points along N.C. Highway 9, the main artery through the area.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this was a plan to implement an urban, city-type trash solution to reduce cost, without much consideration of the fact that many of us live in an urban-forest interface,” Hoffman said. “Hauling a trash can down from our house, it’s a mile-plus gravel road, about a 700-foot elevation change. You’re not going to drag one of these that way.”
Following public comment, Solid Waste Director Dane Pedersen noted that the new contract included provisions for people with unusual trash situations. Those physically unable to handle the carts, he said, could receive complimentary backdoor service after submitting a doctor’s note to Waste Pro. Similar service is also available to able-bodied residents at an extra cost over the regular $19.21 monthly fee.
In nearly 10 minutes of subsequent remarks, Commissioner Mike Fryar lambasted his colleagues for spending millions of dollars on initiatives such as childhood education, renewable energy and medication-assisted treatment at the Buncombe County Detention Center — which he called “drug deals over at the jail” — while not devoting “a damn nickle” to improve trash collection for the elderly. “We don’t need to worry about solar panels today; we need to worry about the old people and how to get their trash out of the yard,” he said.
County Manager Avril Pinder, however, said that her staff had been in regular conversations with Waste Pro since signing the contract in June. Despite the ongoing influx of criticism, she said, most of the concerns raised by residents had already been addressed.
“We have come up with answers to a lot of the questions. The answers, though, to Commissioner Fryar’s point — you’ve heard them over and over, but they’re not acceptable,” Pinder said. “If you want us to go back to the drawing board and talk to the contractor again, we can do that. But we have found answers to the majority of the questions, and we have made them plain and clear.”