LAWRENCEVILLE - A new trash management plan that would divide the county into eight waste collection districts passed its first hurdle to enactment Tuesday.
County commissioners unanimously approved the draft, which would allow waste disposal companies to bid on the districts and collect garbage within them exclusively. Currently, county residents are able to choose their own garbage providers.
Connie Wiggins, the director of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, said the new plan will be cheaper and more efficient because haulers will not be driving all over the county to pick up waste. It will reduce truck traffic and air pollution, making the roads safer and improving quality of life in the county, she said.
"It really is a great tool," Wiggins said. "It isn't just about picking up garbage."
From here, the draft plan will be vetted by the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs before commissioners look at it again, probably in February. If all goes according to schedule, the changes should be in place in 2009.
In addition to the eight districts, other hallmarks of the plan include an increase in recycling availability to 35 items and the requirement that everyone in the county have mandatory garbage pickup. Wiggins said about 20,000 county residents lack trash service.
At a public meeting Monday, 14 people opposed the changes, mostly on the grounds that they would lose their choice. Some smaller trash haulers expressed concerns that the plan could cause them to go out of business.
Supporters lauded the environmental benefits of the changes.
Wiggins said the trash fee will be added to residents' tax bills and contracts will be seven to 10 years long, with strict restrictions on when prices can be raised. On average, county residents pay $24 a month to have their garbage removed, a price Wiggins said she expects to see fall.
County commissioners said they thought the plan was a fantastic program. It takes into account ways to cancel contracts if service is poor and increased recycling options will mean less garbage entering landfills.
Jim Steele, the chairman of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, said he thinks if the changes were not made, the county would keep adding waste haulers that would create more pollution and traffic.
"I think the citizenry wants a change," he said. "Gwinnett is at a crossroads in quality of life issues. This is one facet of quality of life."