Action News Jax Investigates: Jacksonville dumps a trash contractor amid complaints

A new hauler will start this fall. Questions remain if it can tackle the city’s trash troubles.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax investigation has revealed the city of Jacksonville is hiring a new garbage contractor in the midst of a wave of customer complaints about delayed and missed trash collection.

“So when you look at all this you think what?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Jim Buchholz who is the business owner in the St. Nicholas area.

“I think it’s a mess,” says Buchholz who is looking at garbage, yard waste and old tires across the street that he says have been sitting curbside for months.

Action News Jax has been reporting about mounting trash troubles across the city for much of this year.

Jacksonville outsources most of its garbage, bulk, recycling, and waste collection to three companies- Waste Pro, Waste Management, and Republic Services.

In the first six months of 2021, there were 19,500 complaints about missed yard waste and over 8,000 complaints for garbage and recycling.

The trio claim it’s due primarily to labor shortages that have resulted in the city fining them more than a combined $322,000.

Becker obtained documents that show Republic Services contract is up and its routes will be taken over by a company called Meridian Waste as of October 1st.

“It will be a step up for them,” says City Councilman Aaron Bowman who sits on the Neighborhoods Committee.

Becker learned Meridian Waste bid was close to $1.3 million a year while Republic Services wanted $1.75 million annually - a 70% increase from about $1 million it was previously paid.

Meridian is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina but is owned by a private equity firm in Jacksonville Beach.

Meridian has hauling contracts in 7 states with 12 cities - but none close to the size of Jacksonville with 78,000 customers on Meridian’s new route which will run from North of Atlantic boulevard to the Northside and up to the Nassau County border.

“That’s part of the evaluation process,” says Bowman. “Can this company do what they say they can do and that company has a lot of people with backgrounds in this industry?”

Becker e-mailed Meridian to ask about the heavy-lift - including being a smaller company, changing pick-up days, and utilizing more manpower than automation during a labor shortage and received this statement:

“While Meridian Waste started as many solid waste companies do with smaller independent companies operating in rather defined geographic areas like St. Louis, MO and Petersburg, VA, Meridian Waste underwent a transformational change in regard to leadership and experienced management along with a significant capital infusion with greater financial stability in 2018.

On Monday, April 23, 2018, Warren Equity Partners (headquartered here in Jacksonville Beach, FL) purchased the waste operations from the publicly traded company Meridian Waste Solutions, Inc. and took the company private while restructuring the waste operation’s debt, access to capital and leadership.

Walter “Wally” Hall, Jr. was named CEO and his team of experienced executive waste professionals have an impressive track record with regional private and public companies such as Southland Waste Systems (in Jax), BFI Waste Systems (In JAX & ATL), Republic Services (in Jax) and Advanced Disposal (in Jax). The enclosed leadership bios will share greater insight into the wealth of experience and success this management team has achieved over their 80+ years of combined service in the environmental services industry.

“While Meridian Waste is a younger company with 37 current governmental contracts across our seven (7) state operating footprint (none as large as the COJ Franchise Area !!), the team of individuals at the leadership helm both at our Charlotte, NC headquarters and our North Florida offices have deep City of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida roots.

Any contract transition present challenges and opportunities. Meridian Waste knows the Jacksonville marketplace as our leadership team has been providing services to Jacksonville and other NE FL communities since the 1990′s as reflected by our resumes and the above listing of cities and counties served as in previous roles with Advanced Disposal.

The biggest challenge is having the residents understand that change is coming. However, our current plan is to follow existing established collection routes as much as possible. While this may be subject to minimal changes to balance collection loads and create operational efficiencies, the fact that the services will stay the same is very important. Garbage, recycling, yard waste and bulk collection will be picked up weekly - just the same as the contract has called for decades. The preparation of the materials will the same as well with garbage to be bagged and placed within the carts or place neatly to the side of the cart out of the way of traffic and away [from] foremother obstacles like parked cars and mailboxes. Recycling will remain single stream with an emphasis on promoting only clean, non-contaminated recyclables be placed within the existing recycling cart. Yard waste and bulk will be collected curbside and the preparations for the materials remains as per the City of Jax ordinance.

While labor, including CDL drivers, is at a premium, Meridian Waste is approaching our job fairs and open positions with some unique out-of-the box thinking including strong wages and premium health and lifestyle benefits. Many solid waste professional drivers and helpers in this marketplace know the Meridian Waste management team, and we believe our reputation as a fair and honest employer giving our frontline team members the tools and training to do their jobs successfully will be our best recruitment tool yet.

Other challenges include the short timeframe to get the trucks and new Jacksonville facility up and running. But we are a nimble, experience management team who knows what it will take to collect ~78,000 homes on a weekly basis. We have already secured a new hauling facility location off of Lane Ave from which to operate our Jacksonville residential and commercial operations and have C Any contract transition present challenges and opportunities. Meridian Waste knows the Jacksonville marketplace as our leadership team has been providing services to Jacksonville and other NE FL communities since the 1990′s as reflected by our resumes and the above listing of cities and counties served as in previous roles with Advanced Disposal.

The biggest challenge is having the residents understand that change is coming. However, our current plan is to follow existing established collection routes as much as possible. While this may be subject to minimal changes to balance collection loads and create operational efficiencies, the fact that the services will stay the same is very important. Garbage, recycling, yard waste and bulk collection will be picked up weekly - just the same as the contract has called for decades. The preparation of the materials will the same as well with garbage to be bagged and placed within the carts or place neatly to the side f the cart out of the way of traffic and away foremother obstacles like parked cars and mailboxes. Recycling will remain single stream with an emphasis on promoting only clean, non-contaminated recyclables be placed within the existing recycling cart. Yard waste and bulk will be collected curbside and the preparations for the materials remains as per the City of Jax ordinance.

While labor, including CDL drivers, is at a premium, Meridian Waste is approaching our job fairs and open positions with some unique out-of-the box thinking including strong wages and premium health and lifestyle benefits. Many solid waste professional drivers and helpers in this marketplace know the Meridian Waste management team, and we believe our reputation as a fair and honest employer giving our frontline team members the tools and training to do their jobs successfully will be our best recruitment tool yet.

Other challenges include the short timeframe to get the trucks and new Jacksonville facility up and running. But we are a nimble, experience management team who knows what it will take to collect ~78,000 homes on a weekly basis. We have already secured a new hauling facility location off of Lane Ave from which to operate our Jacksonville residential and commercial operations and have secured 49 rental collection trucks while our new collection vehicles are being manufactured for delivery in early Q1 2022.

Meridian Waste will be operating Residential Franchise Area II utilizing rear-load collection vehicles for garbage and yard waste. This requires a CDL drive and a helper on the rear of the truck. This collection method allows for the highest customer service as the helper is available to collect waste located outside the garbage container, immediately clean up any spillage as well as collect bulk waste while collecting the garbage. This prevents the company from having to make a second trip to the home to collect bulk waste once it is placed curbside. The resident is happier as his or her home is left looking much more attractive since the bulk waste has been removed with the garbage. Automation is a collection system that is certainly viable and one that we use in certain geographic locations. But it’s not a good fit for the City of Jacksonville who has a very robust and customer-friendly solid waste collection program. The City does NOT limit the volume of waste to cart contents only; the City allows for the placement of bulky items curbside and does NOT require additional fees for this service; and the City has a fair number of older neighborhoods with cars parked roadside making automated garbage collection a bigger challenge. Automation has its place in the solid waste industry; however, the City of Jacksonville is best suited in terms of providing the best customer care by maintaining a collection system utilizing rear-load collection vehicles for garbage and yard waste materials.

Recycling collection will remain to utilize the single stream, automated side-load vehicle collection system. In the vast majority of cases, the 95-gallon recycling carts are large enough to collect all the household recyclables in one dumping cycle. Only in rare circumstances does a single household have enough recyclables to require that the driver stop the truck and reload the cart with the extra recyclable materials to unload the additional materials. The focus on recycling will be the promotion to ensure only clean, non-contaminated recyclables are collected within the single-stream system and not having to be reclassified as contaminated and deemed trash instead of recyclables.”