recycling bin

Omaha's trash, yard waste and recycling contractor, Waste Management, still uses former Deffenbaugh trucks to pick up waste around the city. Lately, some of those pickups have been delayed.

Omaha could select its next trash hauler on Tuesday, but part of that City Council debate could involve the performance of the city’s current solid waste contract-holder, Waste Management.

Early Monday, the trash and yard waste of about 20,400 Omaha households still sat curbside after delays through the weekend. And haulers might not catch up until Saturday, city officials said.

Many local residents who expected to wait the extra day for trash pickup because of last week’s Memorial Day holiday saw their trash linger outside for at least a second day.

Among those facing a curbside delay was northwest Omaha resident Brandon Noel, 24. His regular Thursday pickup near 120th and Blondo Streets came on Saturday, confusing the first-time homeowner.

His recycling, like much of the city’s, will wait for pickup until at least Thursday, city officials said.

City officials suggested that anyone facing similar delays call the Mayor’s Hotline at 402-444-5555.

The reason: The city’s contract with Waste Management allows it to recoup damages for late and missed pickups, but the city must compile its numbers from formal complaints, not Facebook posts.

Waste Management blamed the delays on last week’s hailstorm and the larger amounts of yard waste that subsequent cleanup efforts generate, in this case, yard debris from limbs and shrubs.

The company was collecting about 30% more yard waste than usual, Mayor Jean Stothert said. Some delay was expected, she said, but not problems that stretch into a second week.

“We do not feel that this is acceptable service,” Stothert said at a Monday evening press conference.

Stothert said she told the company that she wanted a plan of action.

Waste Management officials told Stothert that they would pick up trash at the 20,400 households waiting over the weekend by Monday evening. The effort to catch up means that only about 20% of the people who regularly put out trash on Monday got their garbage picked up, she said.

Delays are likely to shrink throughout the week, so the city asked people to put out their garbage at their regular time and leave it.

Lisa Disbrow, the company’s regional spokeswoman, apologized to residents for delays and asked for understanding because of how much longer it takes crews to handle wet yard waste.

The company, she said, is reassigning workers and managers to pick up trash and yard waste.

Waste Management also said drop-offs at the dump that usually take 20 minutes are taking an hour or more because of wet ground.

Those reasons sounded feasible but a little fishy to City Councilman Vinny Palermo, who represents South Omaha.

“This is something we deal with all the time,” Palermo said of storms, holidays and wet weather. “There’s an underlying issue here that we’re not being told about.”

He’s heard another contributing factor that the mayor agreed with: a driver shortage like the one that drove the Texas-based company to combine Omaha’s trash and yard waste in 2018, and before.

Waste Management is having to bring in drivers from other cities to supplement the 73 it already has working locally on 75 trucks, the city said. It’s also working with temp agencies to hire 25 more people to grab garbage from its trucks so it can catch up.

That staffing problem might get worse before it gets better, Palermo said, given drivers’ job uncertainty near the end of the city’s contract with Waste Management. It runs through 2020.

Palermo and Stothert said in separate interviews that they want the City Council to vote Tuesday on the trash contract so the city and those working with it might know the next step.

Several members of the City Council have told The World-Herald that they won’t be ready to vote Tuesday. They say they want more details about the mayor’s supplemental proposal for 12 weeks total of seasonal unlimited yard waste pickup taken for composting.

All the bidders for Omaha’s next trash contract, which starts in 2021, say they would like to hire Waste Management employees who know the city. But no new company can hire those workers until a contract is approved.