Opinion

EDITOR'S COLUMN Nov. 14 News found in Oak Harbor garbage

Occasionally a reporter stumbles onto a veritable gold mine of news in the most unexpected places, such as the Oak Harbor garbage system, headed by Cathy Rosen, public works supervisor.

I walked into the city services facilities expecting to find a laid-back garbage operation with a handful of dirty old trucks driven by a handful of dirty older drivers. Boy, was I mistaken.

Steve Bebee, solid waste field supervisor, oversees a five-person department that’s in the throes of modernization, best symbolized by a garbage truck so new that it hasn’t even been used yet. It’s a fully-loaded front loader, price tag $175,000. A Prowler pilot might feel at home in its cockpit. There’s a joy stick to maneuver the loading arm, a TV monitor so the driver can watch behind the truck, and enough buttons and toggle switches to challenge any Top Gun garbage truck driver. These guys never have to leave the truck, except to move garbage containers for seniors and disabled people who can’t take their containers to the curb. No extra charge, of course.

The city now has two new garbage trucks which will allow automated pickup from Oak Harbor’s 3,665 residential customers. The labor savings has already taken effect. One employee who moved on won’t be replaced. The modern garbage fleet also includes two commercial frontloader trucks and two recycle vehicles. Old back-load trucks which required a crew of two people are largely being retired. By the end of this year, the new system will be entirely in place.

The new trucks require new garbage containers. Out are the classic old residential garbage cans which were dragged across the driveway every pickup day. In their place are rollcart containers of various sizes, which the city supplies to customers and which the new front-loading trucks can easily grasp.

What I like most about the front-loader system and rollcarts is that you can put all the stuff you want in the can as long as the lid fits. Cheapskates such as myself like to climb into the garbage container each week and jump up and down vigorously, because the Garbage Compaction Dance (not to be confused with the Funky Chicken) saves us money. Some human-operated garbage systems have a weight limit, which makes the garbage dance pointless. No so in Oak Harbor.

Beware, however, of a new rollcart ordinance that takes effect next month. No more loose lids, because birds pick up the trash and drop it all over town. Keep your lid tightly sealed or watch the truck pass you by.

Oak Harbor’s 572 commercial garbage customers will soon be receiving new containers. Last week the first 16 of an order of 300 attractive commercial dumpsters arrived, each with its own locking lid and the requisite “don’t play on or around” warning sign, which ruins a lot of potential fun for kids who are always looking for more recreational opportunities. Maybe some day we can build them a Dumpster Park.

Also new to Oak Harbor residents are “pre-paid garbage bags,” available soon at many leading stores. If your allotted can is overflowing, for $4.50 you can buy a blue garbage bag with the City of Oak Harbor’s logo printed on it. Simply fill it up and and leave it by the curb. If $4.50 seems like a lot, that’s because your garbage is destined for the Beaver State. Yes, Oregon takes all our garbage, as about four-fifths of the state is useless, which is something they don’t advertise on their tourist brochures.

Recycling is something the city would like to improve on. About 29 percent of the city’s waste stream is recycled, while 50 percent is considered ideal. They’re working on it.

New trucks, new containers, new pre-paid bags: Oak Harbor’s garbage system is state-of-the-art. Who would have thought there would be so much news in a visit to the garbage people?

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