Three months after the City of Houston started charging residents a monthly fee to lease their garbage and recycling bins, there are not enough to go around.
Harry Hayes, director of the city’s Solid Waste Management Department, said it has had a shortage of bins for at least a month because of supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said there is a nationwide shortage of bins because more people are staying home more often and producing more residential trash.
Hayes said an order of 15,000 bins placed a few months ago to Toter, the company that manufactures the city’s garbage and recycling carts, did not start to arrive until Monday. As a result, Hayes said residents who requested replacement bins up to about six weeks ago just recently started to receive them. He said the department strives to replace lost or damaged bins within seven days of when they are requested.
On July 1, per a vote by the Houston City Council, residents began paying a mandatory monthly fee of $1.14 to lease their bins from the city, which requires trash and recycling customers to use city-supplied carts.
“If I could go off and manufacture the bins myself, I would be more than happy to do that,” Hayes said. “I know that garbage is very personal and our customers have a very simple expectation. We should deliver on it.
“There’s no magic answer other than, obviously, we know what we’re supposed to do,” he added. “We know how to do it, but there are extenuating circumstances that we’re trying to manage right now.”
The new fee is expected to generate about $5.3 million in annual revenue for the city, which has approximately 390,000 trash and recycling customers who use a total of about 780,000 bins. Hayes said his department typically replaces about 55,000 bins per year, with about 2,000 per year reported lost or stolen or “eaten” by the city’s automated collection trucks.
An Oak Forest resident wrote on Facebook in late September that her garbage bin had been inadvertently thrown into a truck five weeks earlier and, despite making weekly calls to the city’s 311 service line, was unable to obtain a new one until reaching out to the office of Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin, whose District C includes the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest.
Many other area residents commented on the Facebook post, describing similar delays in receiving replacement bins over the last few years. Two wrote that they had waited at least six months before receiving new bins.
Kamin said her office has heard from “several constituents experiencing delays” in receiving new or replacement bins. She encouraged residents to report those issues to 311 as well as her office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 832-393-3004.
“I know how frustrating not having a bin is, and we want to help,” she said.
In a comment on the aforementioned Facebook post, one resident reported receiving a replacement bin within about an hour of recently requesting one. And even though Kamin’s office helped expedite the replacement process for another resident, Hayes said there is not a “secret stash of containers” that council members utilize.
Instead, he attributed the uneven experiences to the department’s practice of continually harvesting bins that are abandoned, found outside of residential areas or returned to the department by customers who no longer need them. Hayes said those bins are cleaned and put back into the city’s stock, so some became available even while the department waited on its order from Toter.
Hayes said he understands why residents who have been forced to wait could be upset. He also said he appreciates their patience.
“We hear their complaints and we are responding with all due speed,” Hayes said. “The bins are on their way.”