The company that handles recycling in Buffalo has halted the practice of using some city-owned trucks to collect materials in other municipalities.
But the head of Buffalo's blue-collar union cited the controversy as one more reason why the city should take back recycling operations when a contract expires next summer.
Buffalo's agreement with Allied Waste allows the private hauler to use city trucks in nearby localities in exchange for agreeing to deploy its own fleet when city trucks break down. But the company failed to get the required written permission from the Public Works Department.
William C. Travis, president of Local 264, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, insisted Thursday that the unusual clause has been a one-sided deal benefiting Allied. He also claimed trucks have been used outside Buffalo frequently.
Acting Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak acknowledged "some inkling" that Allied was using city trucks in neighboring communities. But he said he was under the impression the practice was rare.
Travis countered that he has been telling city officials for well over a year that the practice was widespread. He said city trucks have been spotted many times in other communities, including Angola, Akron and West Seneca.
He said he told public works officials, some Common Council members and even some control board officials about the problem long ago.
"Anybody who says they weren't aware of it has had their heads in the sand," he said.
Stepniak said he asked Allied Waste to document how many times it used city vehicles for suburban pickups. He has yet to receive the information. Allied officials did not return a call seeking comment.
Stepniak, meanwhile, said the practice has been halted.
Buffalo pays Allied Waste $1.64 million a year to collect recyclables. Last summer, some Council members raised questions about service, citing a large volume of complaints from property owners.
Local 264 -- which represents Buffalo's sanitation workers -- is working on a proposal for the city to take back recycling tasks. Stepniak said the city would be receptive to studying the option. But he said taking back recycling would mean hiring new employees.
Travis said if some changes are made that boost recycling rates and reduce landfilling costs, Buffalo could end up saving money in the long term.