Shelton’s trash haulers make adjustments as industry faces new challenges

An Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling truck picks up a trash container in New Canaan, Conn. on Nov. 23, 2021.

An Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling truck picks up a trash container in New Canaan, Conn. on Nov. 23, 2021.

Grace Duffield / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

SHELTON — Staff shortages or delayed service are affecting many industries. Residents may be aware that things are taking a little longer to be delivered. But removals are also a challenge.

Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling President John Decker said his operation has been proactive, even in the face of delays that at times have pushed garbage pickups to the next day after the originally scheduled removal day.

“One complaint is too many,” said Decker, whose company handles garbage removal throughout Fairfield, Westchester and Putnam counties. “Shelton is an enormously important market to us, and we want to make sure our customers are satisfied.”

Oak Ridge has been working with Shelton for seven years and is in the midst of a multi-year deal with the city.

In Shelton, the company handles 15,000 collections per week, and when Decker said he heard about recent complaints about delayed or missed pickups, he felt obligated to update residents about what Oak Ridge has faced in recent months.

Decker said delayed pickups can be traced to significant delays at the Wheelabrator Bridgeport burn plant.

“Our drivers face significant delays in disposal time, sometimes three to four hours,” Decker said about issues at the plant. “The day-to-day processes need significant improvement (at Wheelabrator). Guys are losing three to four hours a day on their routes, which puts a strain on collections.”

Attempts to reach plant manager Philip Schwer at Wheelabrator were unsuccessful.

Decker said the company runs four to five trucks each day in the city. But he admits that another problem through the pandemic has been driver shortages.

“Drivers are not easy to replace,” he said. “It takes time to train people, and it is harder to have enough people ready than in the past.”

The company reacted by hiring a full-time recruiter to help fill spots, as opposed to simply using advertising to find replacements.

“Companies are all struggling with same issues, and they are all reaching into the same well for water, so we decided it was time to drill a new well and get our own recruiter,” Decker said. “That focus has been so important to our operation, which has some 400 employees covering various communities besides Shelton, like Ansonia, Seymour and Newtown.”

Decker said the company is nearly fully staffed, and also has doubled the planned pay increase for the employees in the most recent contract.

“We wanted to take care of our people,” Decker said. “The best defense to losing people is creating a great culture, a great experience for the employees.”

Decker said the holidays are also a difficult time, as days off push pickup days off to the next day, which can be confusing for customers. If pickups are delayed, Decker said drivers try to recover and hit all the homes on the planned day. If the driver is unable, those customers missed are placed at the top of the list for the following day.

“All these pieces added up are causing issues,” Decker said. “We have not experienced these before, and we need to work on improving communication. We could definitely be more proactive in that regard.

“These are new challenges we haven’t had to deal with before — employee shortages, delays at the burn plant — but it is our job to reach each home,” he added. “No excuses, we want to have no misses. We will strive to make that happen.”