Baton Rouge has a garbage problem and Hurricane Ida only made it worse.
At Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting, officials from Republic Services, which has the $30 million annual contract to pick up garbage, recycling and woody waste around the parish, tried to explain to the council what they’re up against.
Republic General Manager Sharon Mann says there are several issues:
• The ongoing pandemic has created a workforce shortage, particularly at the landfill and among the ranks of drivers, who were in short supply before the pandemic.
• The pandemic also has created an increase in the amount of household garbage people generate, not only because they’re spending more time at home but also because they are shopping online.
• The dayslong power outage caused by the hurricane created a huge spike in garbage, with customers throwing out the entire contents of their refrigerators and freezers.
“In the first five days after Hurricane Ida, we picked up 5,100 tons of garbage in East Baton Rouge Parish alone,” Mann told the council. “In 35 years of doing this, I’ve never heard of that much garbage.”
But the problems with Republic have been ongoing since before the hurricane and, even, before the pandemic. In 2019, the city-parish threatened to fine the company for the number of missed collection days, prompting Republic to roll out an improvement plan.
So far, however, the improvements appear minimal. Director of Environmental Services Rick Speer told the council that in the first six months of the year, the city-parish received nearly 13,500 calls to 311 complaining of missed pickups.
“That sounds like a lot,” Speer said. “It is a lot. But we’re trying to work with them constantly to get that number down.”
To that end, Speer’s office meets weekly with Republic to find out where it’s having problems, what’s causing the problems and trying to troubleshoot solutions, he says.
But Metro Council member Dwight Hudson, who has been particularly critical of Republic, says while he was satisfied with the thoroughness and transparency of Wednesday’s update, the current situation is not acceptable.
“I understand they have some legitimate logistical challenges,” he says. “But the fact remains: they’re one of the largest contracts in the city-parish. They are not delivering on the services that have been promised to the taxpayers.”
(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to correct the amount of Republic’s contract. Daily Report regrets the error.)