Janesville’s 2012 budget includes a proposal to automate garbage pickup and issue wheeled carts to all residents.

Workers would no longer get out of trucks to manually dump garbage cans. Instead, mechanical arms would do the job.

John Whitcomb, operations director, said residents would get two 90-gallon carts—one for trash and one for recycling.

All recyclables—bottles, cans, newspaper and cardboard—would go into the same container. That’s known as a single-stream system.

Technologies for sorting have improved, and recycling markets are less fussy about the condition of the recyclables, Whitcomb said.

The city is negotiating to switch from Waste Management to Rock Disposal to process and market recyclables collected by city workers.

“Our prior contract was really cost-prohibitive when it came to trying to convert to single-stream collection. That, under this new contract, is not an obstacle, anymore,” Whitcomb said.

The city proposes to switch to the new system in October 2012.

That would be a good time to make the change because the city in 2012 must replace about half of its trucks used to collect trash and recycling, Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb figures automation would mean two fewer employees, and staffing could be adjusted using vacancies and attrition.

The city would need seven collection trucks, two fewer than it now deploys.

Recycling collection still would be bi-weekly.

Most people now haul two trash barrels, and Whitcomb said the new system would be more convenient for residents.

“They’ve got to make a couple of trips to the garage … This 90-gallon cart should last most families for a couple of weeks, and they will have just a single container to roll out.”

He suspects the added convenience would boost recycling, so he budgeted an increase of $7,000 in recycling revenue in 2012.

Whitcomb expects savings in workers compensation claims, too. Back injuries from lifting trash barrels are common, as are ankle injuries suffered as workers climb in or out of trucks, especially on ice.

Over the last decade, the department’s workers compensation claims averaged about $40,000 a year, Whitcomb said.

Automated collection would be a bit speedier, but the time savings would not be as dramatic as in some other communities, Whitcomb said.

“We’ve always been highly efficient here in Janesville compared to everyone else simply because we have a landfill here in town,” Whitcomb said. “We have very little off-route time.”

Some communities that adopt automated collection also use the opportunity to switch from rear-loading equipment that requires multiple workers. Janesville for years has used one-person trucks.

Whitcomb expects to spend about $50,000 less in 2012 because of automation, but the cost of collection would increase slightly because of the cost of borrowing for the containers and automated trucks, which are more expensive. The city would buy 48,000 containers for about $58 each, he said.

In 2013, the per-household-cost for trash collection and recycling—including tire and appliance recycling—would be $78.57 a year in 2012 dollars if the city switches to automated collection, Whitcomb said.

The city’s current cost is $76.61, but the city charges each residence $40. The difference is covered by landfill profit and the sanitation fund’s dwindling reserve fund.

The monthly cost would go from $6.38 now to $6.55 with automated collection.

Whitcomb predicted consumers would find the convenience well worth the additional 17 cents.

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