Short answer: Staffing shortages, exacerbated by COVID.
A staffing shortage in Houston’s solid waste management department is causing delayed and missed recycling pickups across the city, the agency confirmed.
The Solid Waste Management Department is trying to fill 45 vacancies for waste collectors, said department director Mark Wilfalk.
Wilfalk, who assumed the position two months ago, said he’s reevaluating staffing needs based on the city’s population growth and demand for services like recycling.
“I don’t know what that magic number is just yet,” he said.
In the meantime, the solid waste department has been skipping some recycling pickups to make up the difference from staffing shortages.
Recycling is skipped first. Then, yard waste is skipped if necessary. Garbage collection is prioritized for health and safety reasons, Wilfalk said.
In addition to the 45 driver vacancies that haven’t been filled, [Mayor Turner] said current municipal waste collectors are being recruited by private companies that offer higher pay for fewer hours of work. Houston waste collectors sometimes work six or seven days a week.
COVID-19 has also led to fewer drivers available to pick up waste. Turner said 370 or more solid waste management employees were out due to the virus on Monday.
“That number is increasing every day,” the mayor said.
The city is paying additional vendors to supplement solid waste operations. Turner said they’re offering overtime pay and retention bonuses in an effort to keep current employees. Waste collection was also put on a holiday schedule the last two weeks of December to give collectors some time off.
Ours was not picked up two weeks ago; it’s the second time in the last few months we’ve been skipped. I’m hopeful for today or tomorrow – where recycling was usually picked up on the same day as garbage, lately it’s been collected a day or two after. It is what it is.