Every time ACC officials start talking about downtown trash pickup, they act like they’re trying to send a man to Mars. There’s no good way to do it. Downtown Athens has few alleys (according to former mayor Gwen O’Looney, they were taken over and built on by adjacent landowners, and the city did nothing to stop it) and health regulations don’t allow restaurants to keep rollcarts inside. So the only option is to put the bags out on the sidewalk, where they leak and smell until Solid Waste picks them up.
Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen presented several options to commissioners last week (while commissioners ate dinner during an epic work session; “Don’t worry, it’s not scratch-and-sniff,” Janssen assured them).
One is to build trash receptacles 11 feet underground. People would deposit their trash or recyclables through a kiosk into the underground container. Specialized garbage trucks would then pick up the receptacle with a robotic arm and deposit the waste into the back of the truck. There are several drawbacks: The only city in the U.S. that uses this system is Kissimmee, FL, although it is more common abroad. It would likely require expensive blasting of the granite bedrock underneath downtown. And it would cost about $3 million.
Another is to place trash compactors on ACC-owned parking lots like the one near City Hall. But there aren’t enough sites within walking distance, so Solid Waste would have to use a “trash trolley” (a golf cart, basically) to go around and fetch bags of trash from businesses and bring them to the compactor.
A third option is “eco-stations”—formerly derided as “trash corrals” the last time this topic was discussed in 2014. Smaller eco-stations on the sidewalk could hold rollcarts, or bigger ones in parking spaces could hold Dumpsters. They’d be spruced up with amenities like art, green roofs, solar panels, charging stations and bike racks. The drawback is the loss of sidewalk space or 30 parking spots—which, according to Athens Downtown Development Authority co-director David Lynn, would cost ACC more than $150,000 in revenue annually.
Solid Waste also wants to encourage downtown bars to stop selling beer in bottles. They’re heavy, they break and cut trash collectors, and they’re not very valuable as a recyclable. “Glass is just annoying for us,” Waste Reduction Administrator Joe Dunlop said. “There’s no getting around it.”
He proposed giving bar owners a discount on their alcohol licenses if they stop selling mass-produced domestic beer in bottles. What does Dunlop consider a mass-produced beer? “Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light,” he said. “PBR? Maybe. Yuengling? Maybe.”
Commissioners liked the idea and will vote on it in June. They’ll also vote on a new method for collecting downtown trash in June; that’s driven in part by the Clayton Street utility work that will get underway this summer.