Mayor talks trash; gives update on city’s Waste Management during COVID-19

Coronavirus New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – During a news conference on Thursday, Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque officials discussed the challenges the city’s Solid Waste Department is facing amid the coronavirus pandemic in addition to the importance of proper recycling. Mayor Keller highlighted the department’s consistent service despite two issues that have greatly impacted the solid waste industry.

Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan explains that the global industry faced a critical issue back in 2018 when China stopped taking in most of the world’s recyclables. Those items were then sent to other countries and have since created a smaller market. The Solid Waste Dept. is now facing COVID-19, which has resulted in an increase in the demand for residential services and a decrease in the demand for commercial services.

“We have not reduced the level of services at all. We have continued to provide the same level of service through both issues, through the recycling markets and through COVID-19, and as the mayor was saying, we have an uptick in all areas of our business,” said Whelan.

Due to lack of demand for commercial services since the pandemic, the department has seen a decrease of about 550 commercial pickups which equals about $1.6 million decrease in revenue. Whelan says this means the department will have to budget for this decrease in the future.

Additionally, with more people working from home, Solid Waste saw a 13% increase in residential refuse, about 80-tons compared to last year. Recycling has gone up about 9%, about 14-tons compared to last year.

While this is a significant increase in residential services, it cannot offset the decrease in commercial services. Whelan explains that the department cannot use residential vehicles for commercial services as it is a different type of service that requires a different vehicle.

Residential large item pick-up has also increased by 86% which is about 22 pickups per day. Compared to last year, residential large item pick-up has gone up by about 12,000 stops.

Residents’ visits to convenience centers have also increased by about 68%. However, officials state that since COVID-19 began, there has been a noticeable increase in illegal dumping within city limits.

“That has gone up by about 1,800 sites since last year, so about 110% increase just because of that. So I encourage residents and customers, if you have something like that, don’t just dump it out on the street, call 311 so that we can come get it. It’s going to take a team effort for us not to continue to put those illegal dumpings out on the curb,” said Whelan.

Despite an increase in recycling processing costs and a decrease in revenue, the city says it has no plans to decrease the level of services. Solid Waste was spending about $300,000 to process recycling which was offset by revenues.

In 2018, the amount went up to about $860,000 and in 2019, the amount was $2.7 million and currently this fiscal year the amount has grown to $3.5 million.

“A lot of cities are facing these same challenges, actually, all cities are facing these same challenges but we are glad to say that we have not reduced the level of services and we have no intention of reducing the level of services. We actually want to increase our recycling service because it’s just that important, not only to the environment but it’s important to our future,” said Whelan.

City officials remind residents that it is crucial to be mindful of what goes inside recycling bins. The city states that a problem the department continues to face centers around contaminated recyclables.

Residents are asked to be cautious about placing contaminated items, or items that cannot be recycled into recycling bins to ensure they do not contaminate products that can be processed.

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