Behind-the-Services: Fall Leaf Collection
By Village Manager Phil Kiraly
In my most recent blog Budgeting: Anticipating Challenges, Adapting Practices, I promised a series of deeper dives into recent operational changes in the Village. With the Village’s annual curbside leaf collection program just a few weeks behind us, I thought a review of what we learned from the program this year would be the perfect place to start, especially considering that 2018 was the first year the program was conducted by Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS). Before I get started, I want to reiterate that from this blog (and through the series overall) I really do hope to inspire conversations—please do not hesitate to reach out to the Village Manager’s Office with any questions, comments or suggestions for the leaf collection program or any other Village initiative or service.
The Village has offered curbside leaf collection since 1993. The pilot year was conducted by an outside contractor, but the Village assumed the program internally in 1994 and continued running it through 2017. The program has always been offered without additional fees, although in the Garbage Collection Analysis it was estimated that the leaf collection program cost the Village over $180,000 to run each year. This figure would have been higher too if the Village had to also pay hauling and disposal costs, but we’ve long participated in a mutually beneficial program with the Chicago Botanic Garden in which they accept the Village’s leaves, subsequently processing them into mulch for their extensive landscaping and potting needs (it’s one of the best kept recycling secrets in Glencoe—our leaves = amazing mulch for the Botanic Garden).
With such a long-standing service in place, it was no surprise that in the Garbage Collection Survey the leaf collection program was ranked as the second most important special collection service, closely behind the Village-wide Clean-Up Day. Knowing this, and our residents’ service expectations generally, close attention was paid to the leaf collection program as we began contract negotiations with LRS. To allow LRS time to ease into the new garbage collection program in our community, which began in November 2017, the Village maintained the leaf collection program for the first year of the outsourcing agreement.
2018 Leaf Collection Take-Aways
So what’s changed since LRS took over the program this fall? From an operational standpoint, the switch to the outsourced service has had a number of implications—most of which are very positive. At the same time, we walked away from this year with some lessons learned. Here’s an overview of our main take-aways from this year:
- Despite this being their first year of collecting in Glencoe, through the course of the program, LRS was able to collect as many cubic yards of leaves as past Village crews. From the beginning of the program on October 22 to the final day of collection on December 11, LRS made six full passes through the Village and collected 8,500 cubic yards of leaves. This actually exceeds the Village’s prior five-year average of approximately 8,200 cubic yards of leaves.
- The weather negatively impacted collection. Unseasonably warm weather in October prevented early leaf fall which led to the decision to start the program about a week later than normal. Then we were hit with a cold spell that accelerated leaf fall and saw record amounts of leaves at the curb at once, which significantly slowed collection (and certainly frustrated residents when leaves sat at the curb longer than expected). Then, collections where further impacted by an unseasonably early snow storm at the end of November, which covered leaf piles in snow and caused a week long delay in collection. As you can see from the chart below, leaf collection was more gradual in 2017, with peak collection occurring in the sixth pass through the Village. Peak collection occurred much quicker in 2018 but fell drastically after the snow storm. Public Works staff quickly identified the issue and worked with LRS to adjust by adding more crew members and leaf vacuums to help complete collection. The adjustment to these conditions was by no means perfect, and many residents expressed frustration. Please be assured that we take service levels, particularly for programs as important as leaf collection, very seriously. Staff was aware of these issues and worked expeditiously in partnership with LRS to complete collection in a satisfactory manner.
- To make the transition as smooth as possible, the Village assigned a Public Works crew member to assist LRS throughout the course of the entire program. This proved to be invaluable. As collection was stalled by the snow storm and adjustments needed to be made, having a Village staff member liaison with LRS was key. It also was helpful in keeping lines of communication open generally, both between Village staff and LRS, and between the Village and residents.
- Other Public Works crew members previously responsible for leaf collection were reallocated to other pressing areas of need in the Village. In the past, the Village would assign up to 12 personnel over an 8 to 12 week period to complete fall leaf collection. Not collecting leaves allowed those crew members to complete multiple other projects including pavement restorations, tree trimming and removals, expanded holiday tree lighting in the downtown for Light the Lights and the cleaning of an additional 72,700 feet of sanitary sewer in October and November, a 75% increase from 2017’s October and November metrics. Similarly, due to the outsourcing of garbage collection generally, in 2018 our crews were able to clean over 658,000 linear feet of sanitary sewers—nearly 80% more than last year. While it may not sound exciting on its face, cleaning sanitary sewer lines assists in reducing the frequency of basement backups.
- Village staff met last week with LRS’ team to debrief on this year’s program, sharing insights and feedback. As with every program, new insights are learned every year as the service is refined. Village staff will meet again with LRS prior to the 2019 leaf collection program to debrief again, and to review weather forecasts to determine the optimal time to start collection.
As I stated in my last blog—the outsourcing of garbage collection (and leaf collection by association) is just one of the many cost saving efforts the Village has implemented as we face rising costs and steadily declining revenues. Our primary goal is maintaining (or improving) service levels while making thoughtful, pointed investments into both operations and capital projects. As we make strides in these efforts, we’ll undoubtedly make mistakes, but with every failure there will be a lesson learned. Again, I look forward to your feedback!
A reminder that due to the holidays, garbage and recycling collection will be delayed for Christmas and New Year’s Day, with Tuesday zones being collected on Wednesday. Normal service will resume on Thursday for both weeks.
Happy holidays from the Village family to yours!