It’s a smelly problem plaguing neighborhoods across Oahu, and people are demanding answers on why there have been trash pickup problems for the past month.
The city keeps telling us it’s due to a staffing shortage, but Always Investigating uncovered that it’s not just about needing more workers.
It started with residents in East Honolulu complaining of delayed pickups two weeks in a row.
On Tuesday, the issue reared its ugly head again when the city told us 11 routes from Kunia to Aiea were missed or only partially picked up.
People on the front line dispute the staffing explanation and say the problem has other roots. When we brought up these other causes to the city Wednesday, they revealed for the first time that indeed there is more to the story than just the staff count.
When the city’s Department of Environmental Services (ENV) said staff shortages were to blame, we dug deeper into the vacancy numbers. A recent city-wide vacancy-filling report to the Honolulu City Council showed as many refuse collectors were hired as had left over the past year or so, and workers at various base yards say in some cases, more are on board.
The ENV department says it has 88 refuse collection equipment operators now, compared to 92 as of the end of November last year. It plans to hire 13 more refuse workers over the next year.
The question is why does it need so many more?
Always Investigating came to the union representing the trash workers to get their side of the story and spoke with the state director. Dayton Nakanelua says he’s called for a meeting with the city which will take place at UPW on Thursday afternoon.
Nakanelua says among his questions for the city are, what changes have occurred in management’s directives that the individual drivers’ routes cannot be completed within the workday, whereas they could just a few months ago?
Always Investigating heard from drivers that it had to do with weights per load, and when we asked the city for more explanation, the city revealed more about what’s changed.
Officials say drivers were recently reminded not to go over weight limits on their trucks, something that’s mandated by federal and state rules.
Drivers are telling the union and Always Investigating that abandoned bins are the result of that reminder.
“You could pack 10 tons, at least 10 tons, maybe more (before the reminder),” a refuse worker explained to KHON2. “Now the tonnage is at 8.99. It’s a number that they’ve created. You could do your complete route in say whatever amount, two loads, and now they want you to stay out longer and make more loads.”
Once drivers hit each truckload’s limit, they have to stop, dump it off at the transfer station or H-Power, and they say more stops in-between drag out the time that it takes to get a route done.
“With H-Power shutting down their boilers, a lot of drivers are being held in lines over two hours,” the refuse worker explained. “A lot of guys have lives to live. They want to go home to their families.”
The ENV spokesperson explained that H-Power is “designed with excess capacity in order to be able to take the individual boilers offline for necessary, routine maintenance.”
H-Power functions with three boilers. ENV said as of today, all three are operational, but two are currently online. ENV says that in the month of October, H-Power’s Unit 1 had 26 days of scheduled maintenance and two days unscheduled; Unit 2 had 10.5 days scheduled and a few hours unscheduled; and that Unit 3 had two days of unscheduled grate bar repairs.
They say November outage numbers are not available at this time.
ENV says not all routes need additional trips to comply with the weight restrictions, and that bin counts per route have not changed.
The department has awarded a contract for a Route Optimization Software package that it plans to implement next year “when new routes are put into service. The function and purpose of the software is to make the routes more efficient,” ENV’s spokesperson explained.