Waste Pro woes continue for Buncombe County

Public commenters at Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
TRASH TALKERS: Residents wait to comment on Buncombe County's contract with Waste Pro at the Oct. 1 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Photo by Daniel Walton

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.”

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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8 thoughts on “Waste Pro woes continue for Buncombe County

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    allow more than one company to have a trash pickup contract !!!

    • Deas Nealy

      If you have a half of a mile driveway, pay for someone to take your trash. Seriously…

    • According to the county, Waste Pro was the only company to fill out a complete bid for the contract. There may not be many other choices for Buncombe at the moment, it appears.

  2. Benita Chambers

    I live in 06 zip code and I went a week without trash pick up called 3 different times and got 3 different explanations. I finally said you should communicate with your customers, if you are short of help, say so.

  3. Kristin Warnke

    I also am uncomfortable with this being the only option. I have a garbage can and sometimes just a large bag. It’s already a struggle to get it up and down my long gravel drive. I feel like we are being forced to accept this with no options. I can’t afford this and am concerned about what I will do with my garbage going forward.
    Alexander community.

  4. Peter Gordon

    I lived in Madison County where we had to haul to the dump or collection sites. There was no local pickup. To be able to leave the trash at the end of your driveway is a real convenience by comparison.

    • Lawrence Dodson

      Hey Peter – I agree, to be able to leave one’s trash & recycling at the end of your driveway would be a real convenience. That is if it was reliably picked up. For example, September was 2 of 4 Fridays for me and some of my neighbors for recycling pick up. This is not uncommon for both trash and recycling. Yet we reliably pay their invoices each month. This seems to be standard practice for Wastepro. A good business model; an exclusive contract full of promises never kept and no oversight or accountability. It’s no wonder other companies did not bid for the job. How can an honest business compete with these empty promises?
      One time they missed picking up our trash and recycling for a couple of weeks and they told me there would be no adjustment to my invoice. Their logic was they were still going to pick it up. And that is true. Weeks later. Not what I thought I was paying for. – LD

  5. Justin Reid

    People think privatizing public services like this would reduce bureaucracy, but in practice it is just the opposite. Privatization is outsourcing, and outsourcing always adds more layers of management, customer service phone mazes, and options for those in power to offload accountability onto others. The solution to this problem should be two fold. 1. Make the trash pickup an entirely public service or county-mandated worker cooperative so that the money spent is going to service taxpayers, not private profit margins. And 2. lessen the restrictions on containers (or ideally allow a bring your own container option) by removing arbitrary rules that make no sense and letting county residents directly have a say in how their trash service is ran. Which, again, could be addressed by a worker co-op or a public utility. Just like with Duke vs. a rural electric co-op, when people have a direct say in how their resources are managed, there will always be a better outcome. With privateers like WastePro, the only things your worse service and higher payments fund are a marketing budget and stock buybacks.

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