Taking out the (bulk) trash

Residents still not taking advantage of additional pickup services

Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006

Since the county began accepting bulk trash pickup requests by e-mail and voice mail a year ago, appointment wait times have decreased from more than a month to two to three weeks.

Residents in some Prince George’s communities, perhaps frustrated by the continuing difficulty in reaching a live operator, remain unsatisfied, however, and are leaving items outside their home for extended periods of time.

‘‘I’m concerned that the combination of DER [Department of Environmental Resources] being overwhelmed with pickup requests and people not realizing that it’s peak season for disposal is leading to piles of junk springing up around the neighborhood,” said Mary Lehman, President of the West Laurel Civic Association.

County Council Chairman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said his office has received complaints from constituents across his district.

‘‘They’ve gone to an automated system and seem to be getting the kinks out of it,” he said.

Karen Coakley, President of the Beltsville Citizens Association, said people just need to be better educated about the system.

‘‘Probably the biggest problem is residents not knowing the service is there” and putting out bulk items with their regular trash, she said.

Coakley said she’s used the bulk trash service herself without difficulty and said no residents have ever complained to her about it.

Tom Matzen, DER’s acting deputy director for environmental operations, said that during the summer the department receives an average of 2,000 requests daily for pickup of refrigerators, furniture, washing machines, lawn mowers and other large items not covered by regular trash service.

All e-mail and voice mail requests are returned and an appointment is scheduled the day they are received, however four phone operators still handle the vast majority of requests, Matzen said.

‘‘There are just a lot of folks who would rather talk to an operator and not do it electronically or do it through voice mail,” Matzen said, who estimated that 85 percent of inquires are made through operators.

On average, over an eight-hour workday each operator is responsible for more than 26 calls every half-hour.

‘‘Obviously there is frustration when we miss calls and sometimes we do,” Matzen said. ‘‘We’re hoping that more people will look at the e-mail option or voice mail option.”

Matzen said DER is exploring opening a new call center for bulk trash, perhaps combining it with other services such as animal management.

At present, calls to the county’s bulk trash line can only be received at the county landfill in Upper Marlboro, and cannot be patched through to staff at DER headquarters in Largo who could provide relief during high-volume periods.

According to Matzen, wait times for pick-up appointments have been within DER’s target range of two to three weeks since late 2005.

In March, the department hired contractors to supplement staff during its busy season, Matzen said. The acting deputy director explained that two to three weeks is considered ideal because any shorter time period would make it difficult to schedule efficient routes.

E-mail Steve Earley at searley@gazette.net.