The list of issues Claire Baxter and her east Fort Worth neighbors have observed with city trash pickup services is long. During the past two months, Baxter has filed at least two missed pickup notices with Fort Worth’s code compliance department when her block was “simply forgotten.” 

“It’s been awful lately,” the Meadowbrook resident said. “Multiple missed pickups, trash spilled from the bins and trucks all down the street and blown into our yards, inconsistent pickup times, bins thrown down in the middle of the street.” 

City staff hope that widespread changes to trash pickup routes across Fort Worth will ease the crunch on its vendors, Waste Management and Knight Waste Services, and improve customer service for residents like Baxter. 

However, Fort Worth City Council members expressed concern that the code compliance department did not give city leaders or residents enough heads up about the major shifts in trash pickup routes. 

“We got this really wrong in some major ways,” District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck said during a Nov. 15 work session. “We didn’t communicate with our residents, we didn’t communicate with our council members, we had incorrect information on the website.” 

As of Nov. 7, nearly 79,000 households — a third of the 250,000 homes receiving collection services — have a new trash pickup day, according to a Nov. 15 informal report provided to City Council members. 

Uneven population growth in different regions of Fort Worth has caused an imbalance of customers on certain days, particularly on Tuesdays. Until last week, waste trucks served 56,769 customers on Tuesdays, compared with anywhere between 44,400 to 50,800 on other collection days. 

The unequal distribution has driven an increase in complaints and incomplete pickup routes. Since July, 57 trash routes and 71 recycle routes were not completed on Tuesdays. 

Lola McCartney, a spokesperson for the code compliance department, said city staff worked with Waste Management and Knight Waste Services to review where new residents have moved in and update service routes to make them more evenly distributed. She didn’t respond to follow-up questions about a map of the route changes or the city’s outreach efforts. 

Between 2013 and 2022, the city experienced a 22% increase in residential households in need of waste services, or an addition of about 45,000 customers, according to the informal report. 

The city sought to balance the workload and remove an estimated 10,000 homes from the Tuesday routes, resulting in a slight increase of homes on Fridays. Contractors have committed to decreasing their missed collections by up to 20%, according to the informal report. 

Planning for route changes began in July, with a focus on the northeast and northwest sections of Fort Worth, which traditionally received trash pickup on Mondays and Tuesdays. All council districts were affected by the change. 

A Waste Management truck picks up trash in a Fort Worth neighborhood. Residents can check when trash trucks will pick trash up in their neighborhood on the city’s website. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“Solid waste staff worked alongside Waste Management during the entire process and will ensure that future reroutes will be communicated to Mayor and Council in a timelier manner, and ahead of resident outreach,” the city manager’s informal report reads. 

During the Nov. 15 work session, Beck and District 3 council member Michael Crain were critical of how the code compliance department handled communication and community outreach about the route changes.

About 18,000 residents in District 9 were impacted, Beck said. She was unaware of which neighborhoods were impacted as recently as Sunday, and the city’s website was not updated when Beck began directing people to check for new trash route information. 

Residents in Sunset Heights, a neighborhood in District 9, learned about the change on the morning of their new pickup day through a sticker on their trash cans, Beck said. 

“We failed our residents in a big way when we rolled this out. I don’t know exactly where we went wrong,” Beck said. “You can’t mess with people’s trash. You can’t mess with their trash day.” 

The city sent two rounds of postcards, including one during the week of Oct. 31 and another the week of Nov. 7. A third bundle is going out this week. Council staff and homeowners associations were also alerted to future route changes, according to the informal report. 

Fort Worth has extended call center hours through Nov. 21, and residents can find their trash service days by entering their address at the city’s OneAddress website

For Baxter and other Meadowbrook residents, the rollout was sudden and poorly communicated. One of her neighbors happened to spot a notice on the city’s website and let her know about the new pickup day. 

Baxter has the city’s MyFW mobile app but didn’t receive a notification about a route change until the night before her block’s new trash day. She hasn’t seen any physical fliers or postcards in her mailbox yet. 

“Literally any kind of advance notice would have been better than what we got: an email, a postcard in the mail, a flier on the front door, a Post-It note stuck to last month’s waste and trash bill,” Baxter said. “Instead, it looks like the only advance notice was on their website and was not even available until the week the changes went into effect.” 

Fort Worth City Council members, including District 9’s Elizabeth Beck (right), prepare for a redistricting meeting on March 23, 2022. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Brandon Bennett, the city’s longtime code compliance director, said he took full responsibility for the problems. His staff are mostly new to the city, and Bennett was out of town shortly before the rollout. 

“The one thing that I missed telling my staff was: ‘If there’s a hiccup, stop the process, delay the implementation until we can get it right,’” Bennett said. “That falls on me that I failed to do that.” 

City staff should have recognized that residents were inundated with election mailers and would be less likely to see a trash update postcard, Bennett said. 

Code compliance staff followed Waste Management’s recommendations to distribute cards the week before and week of the change, he said. Less than 2% of people affected by route changes reported “absolute misses” where they needed trucks to come pick up their bins, he added.  

“It’s not any worse or any better than what we’ve done any time we do a re-route,” Bennett said. “There’s always something that doesn’t fire off right, and we know that.”

Beck requested a future informal report identifying the code compliance department’s missteps and briefings before major changes. If Bennett tells the council about his plans earlier, even informally, council members can help with community outreach, Crain said. 

“Someone around this table would have said: ‘Oh, it’s Nov. 8. People aren’t going to be paying attention,’” Crain said. “I feel like we keep having this conversation again and again.” 

Solid waste staff plan to drive through old route areas and tag trash cans with new collection day information, according to the informal report. In the meantime, Baxter is cautiously optimistic that spreading out pickup days will lead to better customer service. 

“I’ll assume any change is an improvement at this point,” she said. 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...