Leaves, limbs, and big items like toilets, furniture, and pallets have been piling up on Memphis sidewalks for weeks, and while city officials called the situation a "crisis," they can't say when all the trash will be removed.
Crews of city sanitation workers have been and will continue working overtime on weekdays and weekends until the city can stabilize the regular collection of waste outside of trash cans, according to Memphis Public Works spokeswoman Matoiri Spencer.
Until then, "you can anticipate delays in the removal of excess trash, limbs, and yard debris," she said, and asked for "patience by allowing us to prioritize the use of our resources to respond accordingly to this crisis."
"Citizens serviced by the City of Memphis are encouraged to leave trash/debris at curbside until services are rendered," Spencer said. "We regret any inconvenience at this time and anticipate resuming normal collections very soon."
The situation began with so-called Winter Storm Titan, she said, that dumped snow and ice on the Mid-South in the first days of March. The storm knocked down numerous trees in Raleigh and Frayser, and crews have been trying to clean them up ever since. The disruption pushed back pick-up schedules, which were already strained by the end of leaf season and the beginning of spring-cleaning season, Spencer said.
But no matter the reasons, residents remain confused about the delay in trash collection. Kristan Huntley, executive director of the Cooper-Young Community Association, said residents in her Midtown neighborhood are frustrated with the lack of communication.
"They're not really sure when stuff's going to be picked up or why it's not being picked up," Huntley said. "What is being picked up? What isn't being picked up? Why has this been sitting here for three weeks? What do I have to do? When is this stuff going to be picked up?"
The situation has also caused friction between city leaders and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents many of the city's sanitation workers. AFSCME Executive Director Janice Chalmers said city leaders turned down her group's suggestions to quicken the clean-up process. The sanitation workers are executing the city's plan but are "getting negativity because the way the city wants it done."
"Whatever they want us to do and whatever they ask of us, we cooperate," Chalmers said. "But when we do it how they want us to do it, we can't be held accountable because it didn't work out."
But the city apparently doesn't need the labor union's backing, according to Spencer.
"It is not necessary for us to point fingers or exchange words with AFSCME over whether we have their support during this crisis, because there may be enough blame to share," Spencer said in a statement.
The city has long tried to implement a volume-based, "pay-as-you-throw" collection system that would charge residents to collect any trash outside of their garbage cans. The idea was part of larger changes planned for Memphis waste collection last year but was defeated by a Memphis City Council vote in December.
"With limited resources, we are consistently challenged during certain seasons because residents continue to discard excessive amounts of waste at no additional cost and expect for it to disappear within a week," Spencer said. "No other city does this for what we charge our customers, $22.80, which is not enough to fund the cost of such an operation."