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Hillsborough County to provide standardized trash cans for automated pickup system

TAMPA — Residents in Hillsborough County might need to take advantage of spring cleaning this year and make a little extra room in their garages.

The county is implementing an automated trash pickup system to go into effect Oct. 1. And with that new system comes standardized containers ringing in at 95 gallons for trash and 65 gallons for recyclables.

Just how big is a 95-gallon trash can? Big enough to hold about 2,000 tennis balls, depending how you stack 'em.

"Some families are just concerned with the size of the trash can," said Joaquin Arrillaga, president of the Westchase Community Association. "But for some families, they don't believe the savings justify the inconvenience of being restricted to this one trash can."

Because the system is automated, residents can only use the given container. Gone will be the days of setting out multiple cans, a bag full of torn Christmas wrapping paper and a box full of bottles. If it's not in that 95-gallon cart, it won't be picked up, said John Lyons, director of public utilities for Hillsborough County.

The county had several options for what sizes to go with, but chose the 95-gallon containers — standing at 45 inches tall with a depth of 35 and a width of 29 — to accommodate bigger families and extra trash from holidays and parties.

"Some people may think they don't need it, but after the holidays or a graduation or birthday party, there is lot of stuff," deputy county administrator Lucia Garsys said. "And unlike now, that's all they're going to pick up is what's in the trash can. You can't put out another box."

This could be difficult for larger households, FishHawk Ranch Homeowners Association board member Dawn Turner said. The average size of a household in that community is five people, and kids tend to generate a lot of trash, she said.

"The residents will either have to learn to do it or they will get mad and say, 'I'm not doing it,' " Turner said. "And then I don't know what's going to happen because the county will just leave it there."

Now that the transition to automated service is under way, the county is opening the bid process for the production of the new containers this week, Lyons said.

"Production needs to happen pretty quickly for us to stay on schedule," Lyons said. "This is probably one of the fastest procurements the county has gone through."

The county set a date of Aug. 1 to begin distributing containers to new customers. In order to drop off all of the cans in time to about 600,000 households before Oct. 1, that means delivering an average of 10,000 containers each day.

"In some regards, trash is very simple," Lyons said. "I set my trash out and it goes away. But on the management side, it's very complex."

If the new containers are distributed to an entire community before the scheduled start date, the collection company has the option to start using automated pick up as early as possible. A soft opening, if you will.

"We want to avoid delivering cans in August and then telling people you just have to store these for six weeks," Lyons said.

For those who are worried about wielding the new, larger cans, there is an option to apply for back door service. This mainly applies to disabled or elderly citizens, but others can opt for this option for a fee.

Each cart will be outfitted with RFID technology which will time stamp when the container was emptied. This means next time someone calls to complain that their trash was skipped, the office will be able to tell when the other cans around that house were emptied or if an entire street was missed.

Under the current contract, companies remove trash two days a week, and recycle and yard waste once a week, each with manual service. While the county looked at other options, including moving to once-a-week pick up for trash, the board of commissioners decided to stick with the current system while only changing from manual to automated service.

Yard waste collection will remain the same with manual service.

While designing the new system, the county met with more than 300 residents during town hall style meetings in each of the five districts.

Some were all for the switch to the automated service, Lyons said. Others were concerned with the potential loss of jobs or had the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" mentality.

"People are resistant to change no matter what it is," Turner said. "I'm sure we'll get lots of calls and we'll probably have to make some adjustments."

Concern for jobs isn't unreasonable. Most collection companies operate their trucks with two men — one driving and one slinging cans. With the automated trucks, only one worker will be needed to drive and operate the truck.

Lyons and the county are working with the collection companies to discuss the transition and provide placement options and help to those who do lose their jobs.

The industry is one with high turnover rates, so many of the lost jobs will be accounted for through attrition, Lyons said.

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that there will be no change in yard waste collection, which will continue to use manual service.

. fast facts

Figuring out what fits without fault

We were curious just how big a 95-gallon container is. So we asked an expert. Here, University of South Florida math professor W. Richard Stark breaks it down for us — Big Bang Theory style.

You are well advised to seek confirmation when attempting arithmetic in the imperial system.

It seems clear that a tennis ball has a radius of 1.315 inches and therefore a volume of 9.525 in³ [at sea level and at a proper temperature for tennis].

But then certainty is lost.

I find that a gallon volume is equivalent to 216 inches³ [congius gallon], or maybe more, 268.8 in³ for the U.S. dry gallon, or 282 inches³ for a treasury gallon . . . The last is 30.5 percent larger than the first, so we have freedom to choose; as we should in America.

I'll pick the U.S. dry gallon at 268.8 inches³, which gives each tennis ball a volume of 0.0354 gallons.

The number of balls in a gallon is not 1/0.0354 = 28.22, unless they melt together. If they keep their shape, then they occupy only between 0.7405 and 0.7784 of the available space . . . giving us between 20.897 and 21.966 balls per gallon.

From this, a 95 gallon container can certainly contain 1,984, but no more than 2,085, balls without deforming them.

But if you were really going to throw the balls away then why not squish them into the smallest glob possible? Then you can get 2,681 balls into one container.

Finally, if you want just one good number then it would be difficult to find fault with 2,034 tennis balls per 95 gallon trash container [without deformation].

P.S. The optimal number of balls depends slightly on the shape of the trash container, not just its volume. But that dependence falls within the range given. If we consider politicians rather than tennis balls, then four 190-pound politicians will fit into one 95-gallon trash container [with squishing].

Hillsborough County to provide standardized trash cans for automated pickup system 03/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 1, 2013 11:24am]
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