Automating Garbage Collection: Delivering Efficiency, Safety, Cleanliness

As mayor, I want to get behind measures that allow us to deliver our first-class city services even better.

Automated garbage collection is one of those opportunities.

Starting in 2015 — one pickup day at time — we’ll be rolling out this new approach in South Milwaukee. Here is what it means …

When your day is changed over, your garbage will be picked up only in city-provided 95-gallon brown cans, and using our trucks’ automatic arms. We already have the trucks to do this. As for the carts, that will be a focus in the months ahead.

For those who don’t have the carts, we will provide you one, at city expense, ahead of that day’s changeover. Look for a mailing with more information ahead of your rollout date, with more details on how to get a cart and where to put it

If you already have a brown cart from the city, great. Keep it. You can take a second one or tell us not to leave one for you.

Here is the ordinance the South Milwaukee City Council passed in late November. It includes quite a bit of detail necessary to execute this — including instructions as to where carts will eventually have to placed as we begin automated collection. (Note: The location requirements may be a big change for those folks with alleys, for example.)

We will roll this out in phases starting this April. Stay tuned for more information as it gets closer.

While it may take some time to get used to the change, it is one many other communities have instituted. And the benefits are real.

  • Efficiency: Automating the pickup process will speed up the work significantly, perhaps by as much as 50%. How? Currently, for homes that do not already have brown carts, the driver of the garbage truck stops the truck at each location, parks the truck, gets out, throws the trash into the back of the truck, and gets back in the truck. Going forward, once the new process comes to your neighborhood, the driver will stop the truck, and, from his seat, extend an automatic arm that grabs the cart, lifts it and throws the garbage into the truck. The arm then places the can back where it was. And on to the next house the truck goes. This saves quite a few seconds — which add up when you are talking about hundreds of collections per day. These saved minutes (hours, really) will free up our people to do other work that might be put off, or skipped entirely.
  • Safety: This is a much safer process for our city crews, and reduces the risk of injury that goes with lifting heavy cans.
  • Cleanliness: This will also make for a cleaner city on garbage days. No longer will you see bags of garbage and other loose items on the sides of our roads and alleys — some ripped open and strewn about by scavenging animals.

In other words, I see this as a big win, an example of how there is always the potential to take a fresh look at the services we provide and ask, “How can we do them better?”

My ask: Please be patient as we roll this out. As I wrote, this will not happen overnight, and it won’t come without some issues I’m sure. But we will keep the lines of communication open and do our best to make this as seamless a transition as possible.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

15 responses to “Automating Garbage Collection: Delivering Efficiency, Safety, Cleanliness

  1. Gordon Lugauer


    Your link is incorrect.

    Heard you stopped by the store today. Hope you had an enjoyable visit.


  2. Fixed. Indeed, I stopped by earlier. Things are looking good. Thanks again for investing in downtown South Milwaukee.

  3. RocketMom

    I think a video showing where *exactly* how the cart should face the street, and the “arms” in action would be more powerful. It’s going to be difficult after a snow storm, to get those carts as close to the curb or in an alley situation. A video showing that scenario would also be helpful. Thanks. I have one of the original garbage carts and I love it.

  4. Elissa Mross

    This is a good idea, however, I don’t think the city should bear the cost of supplying the brown garbage can. This should be the responsibility of the property owner to meet the new city standard. To supply the garbage can would be an unnecessary use of tax dollars that could be better used elsewhere.

    • Elissa: There was quite a bit of debate about this. The issue with requiring homeowners to pay for the carts is that it negatively impacts our levy limit. The state limits how much we can collect in taxes, capping growth in levies at the amount of growth in a community (which is little in developed communities like South Milwaukee). The legislature has determined that charging new fees for services like this requires we reduce our levy by the same amount. I am not comfortable doing that. Instead, the city will pay this one-time expense of the new carts and keep our levying ability at least at its current levels. We need to have a broader debate about levy limits at some point … but until then we have to live within those limits, and do all we can to ensure we can levy what we need to fund our services.

  5. Frank Gratke

    Great job Mayor of follow thru; this should have done a long time ago. One question, would I still be able to purchase a brown cart and get it right away and how much?

    Frank “Disco” G

  6. Bob

    How come the recycling guy always gets out of his truck at each stop ???
    Its a good idea but I doubt whether the driver can do this without getting out of the truck ?? That means positioning the truck in the exact spot to pick up the cart , doesn’t it ??

    • What about having cars parked in front of your home and the neighbors homes all day long and none belong to us. I hope this will continue using alley for pickups.

    • Indeed, this will take some getting used to, both for property owners and city workers. It will require training and honing of the skill. That is why it will take some time roll this out fully. And, yes, we will continue picking up garbage in alleys.

  7. Frank Gratke

    Just got a cart, $49 and free delivery, sorry no chicken samples come with the cart. Sounds like two year phase in with 7,500 cards at $50 a card is $375,000. However, figure a extra minute at $60 a hour man/truck pay back is less than a year. Note buying the cart now it is yours to keep and does save the City worker a lot of strains. A good Christmas gift for your city work who picks up the trash. This should have been done a long time ago. Good job Mr. Mayor for finally implementing this.

    Frank “Disco” G

  8. Tony

    Long overdue Erik. South Milwaukee is only about twenty years behind the times. I can remember Cudahy making the switch in the 90’s. Automated collection is the industry standard nationwide. Congratulations on finally getting this accomplished.

  9. Anonymous

    1. If a 4 foot clearance is required then does that mean that the garbage cart must be placed 4 feet from the recycling cart on recycling weeks?
    2. How can people living on culd-a-sacs make this most efficient for automated pickup? Its always a tight turn for the garbage and recycling trucks.
    3. How will the city track carts that were purchased by the home owner prior to January 1, 2015?

    • Good questions. 1) Yes, there must be four feet of clearance from all other objects. 2) I’m not sure on how we’ll handle cul de sacs, but there will some areas like that (alleys too) that will be tougher than others for this automated process. Our Street Department will study those areas in coming months, and we may have to go with a more traditional approach in some of those areas. I’ll leave that up to the experts. 3) We have tracked purchases of carts, and we can also confirm this with a visual inspection (crews noting who has carts and who doesn’t when picking up garbage). We appreciate your patience as we roll this out. We will do our best to make it as painless as possible.

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