Denver trash pickup days, routes changing in January prompted by driver shortage

Denver officials grappling with a shortage of trash collectors and helter-skelter routes have begun an overhaul that will shift trash pickup from five to four days a week starting in January.

They’re also offering $2,500 bonuses to try to lure trash truck drivers, aiming to fill 30 empty positions — 22% of the total 131.

New compact routes mean “we’ll need six fewer trucks,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.  “Each truck drives about 10,000 miles annually, so that’s a reduction of 60,000 miles driven.”

City transportation and infrastructure officials announced the change Thursday and are preparing to notify residents with postcards and at meetings over the next two months. The new system will begin Jan. 3, officials said

Trash collectors will cover shorter distances and 70% of residents will be asked to set out their bins on different days of the week, officials said.

Denver Councilman Chris Hinds, who has been fielding complaints about trash pickup from his 70,000 constituents, said problems worsened over many years as routes were adjusted “in a duct tape and baling wire fashion,” leading to overtime payouts and missed pickups.

“We’re trying to re-do the routes to make sense. It is so inefficient right now that it is a huge drain on our resources,” Hinds said. From an environmental perspective, “the fewer miles we drive, the better.”

Council members also researching a potential shift to electric trash trucks.

Denver trash collectors have been keeping up by working overtime and on weekends. City officials said crews miss less than 1% of total scheduled pickups. And the city has increased pay based on years of commercial driving experience to try to retain drivers.

Total trash is increasing along with Denver’s population. Despite robust recycling, residents last year sent about 193,988 tons to landfills, or 500 pounds per person, an increase by more than 5% since 2019.

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