The city of Greensboro's loose-leaf collection program, long criticized for being expensive and inefficient, appears finally headed for change.
Deputy City Manager Chris Wilson has a vision for Greensboro's collection system of the future. Plastic bags and vacuum leaf-collection aren't in it. Savings for the city, less hassle for residents, and safer conditions for city employees are.
At a work session on Thursday, Wilson recommended new rules that city staff project will save $3.7 million over 15 years:
- Greensboro will provide residents with one 95-gallon yard waste bin with the option to purchase a second 95-gallon bin.
- Residents can use only biodegradable paper bags — typically available at hardware or big-box stores — for additional yard waste.
- Greensboro will limit bags to 10 per week in addition to the cart, with a special 15-bag weekly limit during leaf season.
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All the council members at the work session seemed to favor the new plan, which would take full effect in the fall of 2024. A council vote is expected Aug. 15.
This fall, the city plans to collect leaves in biodegradable bags, which residents will have to purchase. Council members made clear Thursday that keeping plastic bags isn't even an option.
Wilson defended the need to get rid of vacuum leaf-collection, explaining that accumulation of water in piles of leaves and yard waste often damaged vacuum machinery.
Councilwoman Sharon Hightower praised the improvements in working conditions for full-time city employees and temporary workers, calling the previous conditions "inhumane," and saying the work has been "nasty for years."
"It's better service, and it's more efficient," said Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter. Abuzuaiter and Hightower pointed out that a regular, weekly schedule would answer residents' concerns about uncollected heaps of leaves, and that the new program would stop leaves from clogging storm drains and city sewer systems.
Councilman Zach Matheny agreed with the other council members but also echoed Mayor Nancy Vaughan's question: How will we train city residents to do this?
Previous problems with loose leaves
Only 40% of Greensboro residents use the program and there have been other problems. Residents have reported cars catching on fire because they were parked over uncollected piles of leaves and joggers injured because they were forced closer to road traffic.
The work for the city's full-time waste management staff and temporary workers is also dangerous and difficult. Sixty-eight full-time employees have been affected with lost-time injuries over the past five years, causing the city to pay more than $2 million in worker's comp.
As the price of temporary labor contracts increase, fewer temporary workers are available for hire, which causes a longer wait for leaves to be picked up.
These temporary workers have to tear open each plastic bag by hand, remove the leaves, tie up all the plastic bags, and then drive 17 miles to the garbage dump to dispose of them.
All in all, the program has cost the city $1.5 million every year.
In addition to saving millions of dollars over the next decade, city staff say that the new loose leaf program will free up waste management staff to fix other important problems within communities like potholes, litter, and illegal dumping.