Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert wants to make the move to 96-gallon trash carts across the city.
Stothert said she wants to require covered, wheeled carts and automated trucks as part of Omaha’s next waste hauling contract.
City leaders are in the process of putting together the parameters for the city’s next waste contract, a decision that will affect some 140,000 households.
While the administration will issue the request for bids, the council ultimately will approve what’s expected to be a 10-year contract worth well over $100 million.
Stothert said there are still many details to be ironed out — and no decision has been made on whether to require haulers to separately collect yard waste.
That’s perhaps the most controversial part of the future pact.
Stothert has previously said she favors collecting yard waste and trash together rather than separately collecting yard waste for composting.
But this week she said the decision doesn’t have to be either-or.
“We may be able to (separate waste) for those who really want their yard waste separate,” she said. “We may have other options.”
The City Council on Tuesday will consider an agreement with an engineering firm to help develop the request for bids, which will detail what the city wants to see from its next waste contractor.
SCS Engineers does that kind of work nationally and has a history of working with Omaha, said Jim Theiler, the Public Works Department’s assistant director for environmental services.
The city previously paid the firm to analyze its options for collecting yard waste and survey Omahans on waste collection overall.
That study found that collecting yard waste with trash and disposing it in the landfill is more cost-effective than collecting yard waste separately and composting it, which is required in the city’s current contract.
Theiler said the agreement with SCS Engineers, worth about $99,000, is money well spent. The new waste collection contract is expected to be more expensive than the current one.
The city budgeted to pay Waste Management $14.6 million for services in 2017, though the final payment could be slightly different, Theiler said.
Omaha’s contract with Waste Management expires at the end of 2020. Stothert said she hopes to put the new contract to bid sometime next year. It’s possible that the changes could begin in 2019.
Currently, Omahans can set out an unlimited amount of yard waste and up to five 32-gallon containers of trash.
Stothert said the use of the 96-gallon carts and automated trucks powered by compressed natural gas are part of her goals to modernize waste management and increase recycling.
The successful bidder, she said, would invest upward of $50 million in carts and vehicles.
In the beginning, everyone would receive two covered carts, one for solid waste and one for recycling. They would at some point have the option to switch to a smaller size if they don’t like the larger ones.
The 96-gallon carts were overwhelmingly popular, and recycling increased, during a pilot program involving 2,500 homes.
Under Stothert’s plan, homeowners would not pay for the carts. The contractor would buy them, and the city would own them.
“There’s a lot we still have to work out,” Stothert said, such as who would pay if someone wanted an extra cart.
Most of the city would be served by fully automated trucks with a single driver. But certain areas with narrower streets may need a semi-automated system, Stothert said.
Councilman Pete Festersen said he intends to support the agreement with SCS Engineers as the next step in modernizing the city’s waste collection system.
He said he wants to continue to accept public input and wants the final bid package to address cart size, separate yard waste collection for composting and enhanced recycling options.
The SCS Engineers study found that citizens supported an option for separate yard waste collection.
“I would be unlikely to support a final contract that didn’t include those options” or at least analyze and price them, Festersen said.
Councilman Brinker Harding said he will support the contract with SCS Engineers because the firm’s study will help create a bid package that will generate competitive responses.
He said that while his preference has been to collect yard waste separately, he’s remaining open minded about the financial and environmental implications.
Harding said his goals for the next contract are to maximize the efficiency and quality of the collection process at an affordable cost to the taxpayers.
Councilman Vinny Palermo said he’s still gathering input, including his constituents’ thoughts on the challenges for automated pickup east of 72nd Street. He said he’s heard from both sides on the issue of separate yard waste collection.
“I’m still collecting all the information I can to make the best decision on what is best for the district I represent,” he said.
Stothert said she has to consider the economics of separate collection, saying it’s “definitely a money loser for the city,” to the tune of more than $4 million a year.
The city-run Oma-Gro costs $1 million to create and package, and it costs $3.5 million to collect yard waste separately, but it generates less than $200,000 in revenue, Stothert has said.
Stothert said she’s planning to develop the request for bids closely with the council.
“This is an expensive contract,” she said. “We want to get it right.”