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Municipal trash collection reportedly being considered by New Orleans officials

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Ryan Nelsen
Trash pickup in New Orleans has been sporadic since Hurricane Ida, and in some cases, well before the storm's landfall.

New Orleans is looking into taking over some control of garbage collection in the city, instead of relying solely on private contractors to pick up residential trash, according to a story published in the Times-Picayune.

In an interview, Mayor LaToya Cantrell told the paper’s reporters that her administration is considering a hybrid approach in which city workers would be responsible for garbage pickup in a small section of the city.

“Through the years, governments across the country were moving and shifting towards contractual labor, instead of in-house. We believe there is a need for a hybrid. We learned that clearly, quite frankly, during Ida,” Cantrell told the Times-Picayune.

Cantrell said in order for trash collection efforts to get off the ground, the city would need to hire more sanitation staff and buy the heavy equipment needed to haul trash. She said the new model would still see contractors handing garbage collection for most of New Orleans, as city workers start with a small part of the city to test things out.

“We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. We don’t want to do that, but whatever we start, we want to scale,” Cantrell said in the interview.

This consideration comes as residents’ faith in some of the trash collection companies contracted to service New Orleans is at an all time low. Metro Service Group, which collects garbage from Lakeview to New Orleans East and in neighborhoods downriver of the French Quarter, has had trouble meeting its trash collection obligations since May 2020, when workers went on strike and demanded a pay increase from $10.75 an hour to $15 an hour. The strike ended in September 2020 and workers’ pay was increased to an hourly rate of $11.19.

Trash collection worsened after Hurricane Ida, when residents waited for weeks for their garbage bins to be emptied. Because of a citywide power outage, people had emptied their refrigerators, the contents of which created a putrid smell as it baked in the hot New Orleans sun for almost a month.

In a City Council meeting in September, Councilmember Kristen G. Palmer said 3-1-1 calls showed that Metro had missed nearly 13,000 pickups since January 2021 and that Richard’s Disposal, the city’s second largest trash contractor, had missed more than 4,000.

Representatives from Metro and Richard’s said they did not have enough staff to collect the garbage after the storm. A spokesperson for Richard’s told the City Council that because of the extra trash after the hurricane, it was taking workers two-and-a-half days to complete the route that normally took them one day.

In response, city officials also made a temporary change to the frequency of garbage pickup, going from twice a week to weekly.

Last week, the City Council approved a $15 minimum wage for city employees. This means that workers hired by the city to collect trash could be earning $15 per hour or more beginning in January 2022.

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.

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