The Burlington County Commissioners announced new actions undertaken by the County in response to the severe driver shortage impacting recycling collections in the county and across the region.
Earlier this week, the County began deploying its own County truck drivers from the Division of Roads and Bridges to receive training to operate recycling trucks to assist the Occupational Training Center – the County’s regular recycling provider – with collections. The training is being expedited so these drivers can begin collections quickly.
The Burlington County Commissioners have also entered into a new shared service agreement with the Burlington County Bridge Commission that will allow several of the Bridge Commission’s licensed truck drivers to work recycling collections. And OTC has supplemented its fleet with some additional trucks that are simpler to operate so the additional drivers can be trained and deployed sooner.
Both County actions are being taken in response to the nationwide truck driver shortage that has left OTC and other recycling providers and trash haulers severely shorthanded.
“We understand and share the frustrations of our residents about the delays, but the truck driver shortage has created a lot of challenges beyond our control. Nonetheless, we have taken several responsive actions to assist our recycling vendor to try to get us back on a more regular collection schedule,” said Commissioner Tom Pullion, the Board’s liaison to the Department of Solid Waste and Recycling. “These additional drivers are not a permanent fix and they won’t necessarily get us back to our regular recycling schedule overnight, but they should help us bridge the gap while we continue to work with OTC to help them hire and train permanent drivers to replace the ones they’ve lost.”
“These are encouraging steps and we appreciate the Bridge Commission and our own County truck drivers for stepping forward to assist us. We are also grateful for the help we’ve received from many of our municipal partners,” Pullion added.
Burlington County Bridge Commission Chairman Matt Riggins said the County and Bridge Commission have a long history of sharing services and has assisted not only the County, but also local municipalities, school districts, businesses and nonprofits.
“When we heard the County was looking for drivers to assist OTC, we immediately stepped forward to see how we could help make it happen,” Riggins said. “During challenging times like these, all levels of government need to work together for the good of our residents and neighbors, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
The driver shortage has forced numerous changes in the curbside recycling collection schedule in all towns, and residents should continue to check the County’s Recycling Hotline at 609-267-6889 regularly for the latest three-day schedule.
Updated schedules are also posted online daily at burlcorecycles.com and on the Burlington County Facebook page. Residents are also encouraged to download the free Recycling Coach app, which can provide notifications about upcoming collection makeup days. The Recycle Coach app can be downloaded from iTunes or the GooglePlay app stores. For residents without smart phones, a PC/Laptop version is available at www.co.burlington,nj.us/1602/Recycle-Coach.
“These are the trusted sources for the most up-to-date information about recycling collections,” Pullion said. “We know there has been a lot of rumors and confusion about the issue. We want residents to know we’re still collecting and working to return to our regular schedule as quickly as possible. Until then, we want to make sure everyone receives the correct information.”
Residents are also being encouraged to use the recycling drop-off sites located in their towns, and the County has prioritized collections from those sites so they remain available for residents. A list of municipal locations is available here.
Nationwide the shortage of over-the-road drivers is at its highest level in 15 years, according to the Solid Waste Association of America, which blames the shortages on an aging workforce, occupational hazards and increased demand from e-commerce.
Competition for in-demand drivers has made retention extremely challenging and finding replacements has also proven difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on driver schools and Motor Vehicle Commission operations.
The driver shortage has impacted numerous other recycling and trash haulers, including several private companies contracted to collect trash in county municipalities and elsewhere in the region, such as Cherry Hill and Collingswood.
Burlington County collects recycling from all 40 of its municipalities. The program is not funded with county taxes but is part of the County’s Solid Waste Utility and supported with grants and tipping fees from trash collection at the county landfill and the sale of recyclables. Unlike most counties that collect recycling, Burlington County does not charge towns a collection fee and it is the only county in the state to collect from all its towns.
OTC, which specializes in training and employing individuals with disabilities, has operated the County’s Recycling program since 1982.
“We do collections as a shared service to save our property taxpayers money and the recycling program’s record has been outstanding throughout the last four decades,” Pullion said. “Everyone is facing a Perfect Storm situation now, but we’re getting some temporary help and expect the situation will improve and we’re incredibly grateful to have partners like the Bridge Commission to work with us.”