For Quincy and Braintree residents, the first few weeks of trash collection by Sunrise Scavenger Inc. have been a mixed bag.
Since the start of Sunrise's contract on July 1, officials in both communities said, trash was not collected at some homes, and ended up in the streets at others.
"I was getting calls and e-mails from folks, either recycling or the regular solid waste had been missed," said Quincy City Councilor Kevin Coughlin. "So I was frequently in touch with John Sullivan at the [Department of Public Works], and I know John was very busy."
In Braintree, residents experienced similar problems, as crews adjusted to a new town.
"I have received numerous calls from folks in my district complaining about the new trash provider, and some of the cases the trash wasn't picked up," Town Council president Chuck Kokoros said late last month. "In other cases, there was displeasure for refuse that was left in the streets when the stuff was dumped."
Sunrise president Joseph Lombardi acknowledged that there was a transition period, but said many problems resulted from residents who did not put out their trash in time.
"Since Day One, everybody has had service. . . ." Lombardi said. "We've been notified if someone didn't have their trash out. We've gone back. And every day we've cleaned up from where we've gone the next day."
Whatever the level of service, both towns are in it for the long haul, and some residents and officials said they've seen signs of improvement.
"I'm optimistic that they are improving service from week to week," said Quincy City Councilor Brian Palmucci, although even as late as last Friday he received an e-mail from a constituent complaining about poor service. "You have to be [optimistic] in a 10-year contract. I hope we can work through any issues that come up."
But he added that as of yet, he's not satisfied with the level of service.
The process began in March when Quincy withdrew from a trash arrangement with Braintree and Weymouth. Braintree and Weymouth then ended their relationship, and Quincy and Braintree entered separate contracts with Sunrise.
Though officials from both communities touted the new contracts as less costly and more efficient, complaints have been pervasive.
Quincy also ran into the unexpected cost of replacing some condominium dumpsters.
The city initially sent letters telling condo associations to buy or rent new dumpsters that fit Sunrise's equipment. The resulting outrage from those who had bought dumpsters suitable under the old contract caused city officials to cover the cost of new dumpsters.
Yet residents like Stephen Dunlea never got the memo.
"I was told [the previous contractor] was going to come, get their dumpster, and this new company was going to come in and put a new dumpster in, but we didn't want that," Dunlea said.
Instead, his condo association traded its recently purchased, state-of-the-art dumpster for an older model that would work with the new system. Dunlea wasn't aware that the city would have bought a new dumpster.
In Braintree, which has a five-year contract with Sunrise with a five-year option, things initially were not much better.
Councilor at Large Sean Powers heard complaints of missed streets, and those concerns came on top of worries about the automated trash pickup that's scheduled to start in October.
The automated service will use mechanical arms to gather trash from the sidewalk, with each house receiving barrels for recyclables and trash.
"My responsibility as a councilor is to ensure the residents receive the same level of service they should get, or a better level of service. There are a lot of unanswered questions," Powers said.
The Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to vote last Monday on $905,000 for new barrels (which would be partially offset by a $130,000 grant), but postponed the vote until Tuesday to collect more information on how the system will work.
Lombardi defended his company's performance.
"Folks are trying to get used to our schedule. . . ." Lombardi said. "I wasn't missing streets. The only reason I'd come back to a street doubling up is because folks didn't have material out. They would call and if it's not in the street, I can't go in the backyards and get it."
Lombardi pointed to his GPS system , which tracks what streets trucks have been down, and said cameras mounted on trucks verify that trash is being collected house to house.
For residents who put out their trash late, Lombardi said, trucks have returned a second and even third time. After two weeks, the kinks had been worked out, he said.
Braintree's solid-waste coordinator, Jeff Kunz, said that 80 percent of the blame rested with the residents putting out trash late.
The remaining 20 percent reflected problems with drivers who either were missing houses as they developed a routine, or skipping barrels due to confusion over what was in them.
Since Week 3 of the contract, both aspects were much improved, Kunz said.
"Most [complaints] have gone away, but we're set up to handle the routine problems that do arise," he said.
According to Braintree's chief of operations and staff, Peter Morin, town employees traveled along trash routes during the transition to ensure pickups were on schedule.
Two people in the mayor's office were assigned just to handle initial calls and complaints, and complaints are tracked to ensure no repeats, Morin said.
"Two weeks into the contract, the mayor met with Mr. Lombardi, let him know we were aware of problems, we wanted better performance, and we've seen better performance the last two weeks," Morin said.
Christopher Walker, spokesman for Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, outlined similar steps and similar progress. Residents also say service is improving.
Patty Greene, who lives on Quincy's Riverside Avenue, said she initially had to call four times to get her trash picked up, even though it had been out since the night before. Crews eventually came the next day, she said, and service since then has been fine.
Even Dunlea, who said the trash was not picked up on time at his condominium for several weeks, said service has been fine since July 26.
And some residents have been happy with service from the get-go, such as Mary Boudreaux of Braintree's West Street. "I don't have any complaints. I think they are doing a good job," she said.
The expected savings from the new contract, coupled with a promise to recycle more, has Braintree Councilor John Mullaney convinced it has been the right move.
"In the end, compared to the past, we will save $50,000 a year [through increased recycling alone], but the primary thing is we're controlling cost and we're making the environment a better place," he said.