There’s one thing growing faster than the population in Gilbert — the piles of bulk trash.
The mattresses, tree branches, broken toys, furniture and other bulk trash that Gilbert residents leave in their yards, sidewalks and streets has ballooned in the past five years, growing at an average rate per capita of 23 percent a year.
Some residents say the town’s convenient free monthly bulk-trash pickup service is abused by residents with big families who don’t want to pay for another standard black garbage can. Town spokesman Greg Svelund calls the service “a victim of its own success.”
“They are putting out all kinds of stuff that really is not bulk trash, that could go in their black can,” Gilbert resident Sylvia Lesan said. “People fill up their whole driveway with stuff. This is a throwaway society. We don’t save anything.”
Svelund said the town has been marketing the service through its free town paper mailed to homes, which could contribute to the increase. It’s not surprising that families with multiple children moving to town may have a lot of bulk trash they want to get rid of, he added.
But the town is encouraging residents to take advantage of free trade Web sites or to donate usable bulk to charities, instead of throwing it away in overwhelming volumes to fill up limited landfill space.
“Anything we can do to get people to put less out, whether it’s bulk trash or recycling, and try to consume less,” Svelund said. “Try to find new ways to use old products. If they could do whatever they can to not put it out in bulk waste, that would be great.”
A 26 percent increase in bulk trash just in the first six months of this year has caused the town to run on average two weeks or more behind on picking up the refuse. Hundreds of angry residents have called to complain. In some cases, residents say insects are infesting their homes, and residents who put their garbage out early are causing it to sit curbside as long as a month.
Town Councilman Don Skousen points to a long frost that killed a lot of trees and branches for triggering this year’s jump. But over the years, the town has experienced an increasing amount of bulk trash per capita, far exceeding the population growth. The volume has ballooned from 2,385 tons in 2000 to 11,778 tons in 2006. Taking population growth into account, the increases per year average 23 percent per capita since 2002.
East Valley municipalities that offer the free monthly service — such as Gilbert, Scottsdale and Tempe — collect a dramatically higher rate of bulk garbage at homes, compared to cities that require appointments or charge a fee for pickup.
Gilbert, which has about 192,000 residents, picked up as much as 1,712 tons per month in the last year, and saw a jump to 1,226 tons this May from 734 tons in May 2006.
Scottsdale, a city of 226,000, collected 1,001 to 1,850 tons of bulk trash each month from residential curbs during the last 11 months, as part of its monthly service.
But Chandler, a city of about 240,000 which offers only two free pickups a year, made 16,839 trips to collect bulk trash from homes in all of 2006 — far fewer than the 24,729 pickups in Gilbert in April and May alone. Chandler officials don’t track tonnage for individual pickups.
This month, the Chandler City Council voted to offer free pickup once every six weeks.
In Mesa, which has about 448,000 residents, homeowners are charged $19.99 for unlimited home bulk trash pickup. There were 1,190 tons of bulk collected in 2006, or 99 tons per month. So far this year, 452 tons have been collected in Mesa, compared with 6,162 tons collected in Gilbert through May.
For some Gilbert residents who pride themselves on living in a town that requires homeowner associations and has the highest per capita income in the East Valley, the trash is getting embarrassing.
And, it’s growing expensive, officials say. The cost for paying staff and operating the Gilbert’s bulk trash program is $1.7 million a year. The town is seeking emergency approval of contractors to help clean up the townwide mess at a cost of $125 per ton and no more than $300,000.
Gilbert resident Kathy Tittes said about 50 guests had to walk past an overflowing pile of garbage in her front yard for husband Allen Tittes’ recent birthday celebration.
“People did comment on, ‘what is all this trash in the street about?’” Kathy Tittes said.
And many residents say they often see “scavengers” digging through trash, looking for useful items left at the curb.
“I actually set stuff aside, and if I don’t want it, they can come and take it,” Gilbert resident Susan Ford said. In fact, she said her family grabbed an old washing machine someone had set on the side of the road, and use it to wash greasy rags her husband uses.
Her big concern is leaving bags of grass clippings in front of her home for nearly two weeks.
“It starts to rot,” she said. “We get scorpion-infested.”