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Trash haulers still working out the kinks

LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's been a month since the Gwinnett solid waste plan has been in service, and Harold Buchanan is glad to report that his trash has finally been picked up.

Buchanan, who lives on U.S. Highway 29, wasn't happy in the first place about the new trash plan, which was finally implemented a year and a half after a judge discarded an initial plan.

But he never dreamed he would have to wait so long for service.

It took more than two weeks for Buchanan and his wife to finally get their trash bin taken, he said, and that only came after they called two trash haulers.

His wife tried for two days, including one two-and-a-half hour hold to get in touch with the county, but she never got through.

"I figured it went far enough," he said. "It had been out there two weeks. We'd drag it out to the street and then drag it back to the house."

Prior to the plan, Buchanan said he probably would have canceled his trash service if the company failed to pick his bin up.

"I've got no option any more," he said of the new program, where haulers are divided into serve districts and residents are required to pay through tax bills. "If I was a rich man, I would have carried it to court."

Officials say the growing pains of the last month, for the most part, have been worked out. In a call center, many of the phone calls are still from people who are unaware of the new plan, said Casey Snyder, division director over solid waste, but the numbers are going down.

While numbers are not broken down to determine the amount of complaints over missed pick-ups or shoddy service, the call center has taken nearly 9,000 calls in the past month. The volume has decreased from 613 on July 1 to 233, and Web hits are down to about 1,000 a weekday from a high of 3,908.

Snyder said the last month has been a transition, but the kinks are getting worked out.

Beginning today, trash haulers who do not resolve a legitimate complaint within 24 hours will have to pay damages, which start at $100.

The call center is also being adjusted. Not only will more temporary staff be hired to help with call volume, but the complaints will be tracked by haulers and more statistics will be taken.

Many of the calls, Snyder said, haven't been about a lack of service but a lack of understanding of the current program. For example, white goods and bulky items are included in the service for free, but people must call their hauler to arrange pick-up instead of simply putting it out with their trash bin.

Officials also hope the benefits of the trash plan are soon evident.

While one of the purposes of assigning haulers was to cut down on truck traffic through neighborhoods, Snyder said many of the companies went out on multiple runs through communities to haul trash that was left out at different times of the day or on wrong days.

Plus, the confusion about bulky items has made it slow to see an improvement in the county's illegal dumping issue.

"As people becoming accustomed to this, we hope it will greatly reduce illegal dumping," county spokesman Joe Sorenson said. "That should go a long way toward making Gwinnett a better place to live."

To report an issue with your trash service, call 770-822-7141 or send an e-mail to gcsolidwaste@gwinnettcounty.com.