City Haul: Labor constraints lead waste agencies to get creative

The following excerpt is from WasteDive on February 24, 2022.

Resilience and Forecasting

The challenging operating environment in the last two years has highlighted the need for more resilience planning going forward to prepare for whatever’s next.

“One of the things we’re looking at is support systems,” Kellas said, to help cope when internal human and fleet resources are not sufficient. Fairfax County has contracts with leasing companies, for instance, in case they need to bring in equipment, “just to have more of a safety net to supplement these ebbs and flows as they come.”

Giudice said the Phoenix Public Works Department will do “future-casting” exercises to consider technology coming down the pike and how that and other industry trends could influence staffing needs in future years.

“You have to keep your pulse on where things are headed so you can be responsive and you can be planning,” Giudice said. That was how the apprentice program for drivers came to be a few years ago, he said — the city anticipated it would need to grow its own employees. At the same time, the emerging need for maintaining robotics or automation technology, for instance, can create new types of jobs. And further in the future, Phoenix is keeping an eye on the potential role of autonomous trucks.

For now, labor costs may continue to mount for employers and for customers. During fourth-quarter earnings calls, major waste and recycling companies noted greater labor spending, exacerbated by inflation, which has translated to price increases. Jeff Duhamel, CEO of California-focused solid waste and recycling consulting firm MuniEnvironmental, said contracts he’s recently helped negotiate between haulers and cities have had rate increases between 30% and 40%. In California, he attributed the increases to a combination of factors, including rising labor costs, but also rising fuel costs and costs associated with organics recycling programs newly required by state law SB 1383.

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