An announcement went out this week that because of numerous weather events loose leaf collection that was supposed to end on Friday, Jan. 25 has been extended to Feb. 7.

If there is a third rail for the Greensboro City Council, it’s loose leaf collection.

Periodically a councilmember will bring up ending loose leaf collection at a meeting and the result is that councilmembers receive more calls, emails, texts and even letters then they have ever received about any issue.  The move to consider ending the loose leaf pickup then dies for a couple of years and councilmembers make a point not to mention it in public.

But since it hasn’t been mentioned in a while there is talk amongst the councilmembers about ending loose leaf collection.  When you have a City Council that is obsessed with the issues involving the homeless population, talking about cutting out a service that doesn’t benefit homeless people at all, makes a lot of sense.  Who knows if the Homeless Union of Greensboro is in favor of ending loose leaf collection, it well might pass.  Theoretically it would free up a lot of money the City Council could spend on other issues, but only in theory.  The reality is quite different.

The city spends roughly $900,000 on loose leaf collection, but the largest expense is the $41 a ton tipping fee the city pays to itself for dumping the leaves at the landfill.  In 2017-2018 the city picked up 11,000 tons of leaves during the loose leaf collection program.

Councilmembers get the idea that the city could save that $900,000 by ending loose leaf collection and only picking up leaves in plastic bags which is why periodically the topic is broached.

But that isn’t the case as long as the city is going to pick up leaves the cost doesn’t disappear because the leaves are in bags.  In fact according to Field Operations Director Dale Wyrick it might be more expensive, except that his belief is that fewer people would put leaves out for the city to collect if the leaves have to be bagged.  So a reduction in the amount of leaves collected could result in a cost savings.

But as far as the cost of collection goes, Wyrick said in his opinion as long as the city was going to collect leaves, that loose leaf collection was more efficient and either cheaper or no more expensive than picking the leaves up in bags.

Wyrick didn’t say this but it is certainly more environmentally correct to pick up loose leaves than leaves in bags.  Those plastic bags don’t disappear once the leaves are emptied out of them.  The leaves decompose into compost in less than a year, the plastic bags will still be in a landfill for generations.

Wyrick said that one cost people don’t associate with bagged leaves, is getting the leaves out of the bags. At one time the city dumped the leaves plastic bag and all into a grinder and then screened out the pieces of plastic.  But so much plastic was ending up in the compost that Wyrick said, it just wasn’t a very good product.  Currently workers dump the leaves out of the bags before they go to the grinder but Wyrick noted the process is labor intensive and not cheap.

Wyrick said another consideration was equipment.  The city is set up now for collecting loose leaves and he said his yard waste trucks would be overwhelmed during leaf season if they had to pick up all the bagged leaves also.  He said the result would probably be temporary crews going around just picking up bagged leaves which is also labor intensive.  So the city would still be hiring temporary crews to collect bags of leaves and then more crews to take the leaves out of the bags.

Wyrick said, “If the city is going to collect leaves, what we’re doing now is about the most efficient way to do it.”

He said, “It’s definitely more efficient for the homeowners but also for the landfill operation, because you don’t have to debag everything.”

Wyrick added, “At the end of the day I don’t think we’d be saving a lot.”

So to some members of the City Council ending loose leaf collection looks like an easy way to pick up close to $1 million to spend on some of their other projects, but when you start looking at the numbers the only way to save that money would be for the city to refuse to pick up leaves at all and even the current City Council isn’t likely to go for that.