In challenging times, the City of Norman’s Sanitation Division has continued to provide vital services to their community and that means thinking ahead—including driver training, community engagement, CNG
transition and modernizing their waste management practices.

The City of Norman, OK’s Sanitation Division has been in service in one form or another since the city was founded on May 13, 1891, with the modernization to fleet service occurring in the 1940s. As the third largest city in Oklahoma and home to the University of Oklahoma, the city’s Sanitation Division currently consists of: Utilities/Sanitation Administration, Commercial Collection, Compost Operations, Recycling Operations, Waste Disposal, and Residential Collection. The mission of the Sanitation Division is to provide quality sanitation services to the citizens and businesses in the City of Norman in a dependable manner and treat customers with courtesy and commitment to a cleaner Norman. Servicing 44,000 residents and 3,000 commercial accounts within the city limits, the Sanitation Division currently employs 50 staff members and runs 40 trucks.

Route Driver Matt Mills services homes in West Norman.

Managing Challenges
While there were no significant interruptions of service for the city of Norman during the height of COVID, there were minor daily delays due to truck driver staffing issues. To mitigate, Solid Waste Division Manager Bret Scovill says management encouraged, and continues to encourage, staff members to practice safety measures and recommendations from local health officials. “CDC guidelines were tracked and followed in office settings and equipment sanitizing took place daily. Drivers had access to unlimited supplies of masks and sanitizing solutions. Although there were several cases of COVID among employees and one hospitalization, the Norman Sanitation team was fortunate that everyone made full recoveries. There was a significant decline in cases by Spring 2022 and staff remains diligent, but operations have largely returned to normal.”

A City of Norman CNG truck is parked in front of the Household Hazardous Waste Facility, which began servicing residents for responsible hazardous waste disposal in February 2022.
Photos courtesy of the City of Norman, OK.

Scovill says that extreme fuel and material price increases have presented other challenges, as has truck availability. Around 70 percent of the Sanitation fleet is CNG powered, which has positioned the division well for fluctuating fuel prices. Healthy route efficiencies also preclude any major modifications in daily distances. The City of Norman continues to move toward initiatives that reduce emissions and promote environmentally friendly practices and, as such, will strive to transition the full fleet to CNG in the future. Since the opening of a CNG station on City property in 2012, Sanitation has displaced 500,000 gallons of diesel and unleaded fuel by the operation of CNG refuse trucks. The benefit of such savings coupled with the convenient early morning visits from CNG-powered sanitation trucks—which are 85 percent quieter than those operated by diesel—are two positive attributes of the transition.

“We are also more efficient when all of our trucks are the same,” stressed Scovill. “Common parts—such as air filters, fittings and hoses—reduce inventory when one size fits all. The truck availability situation forced us to look at, and purchase models of cab and body that are different than our standard fleet.”

Scovill and his staff also emphasize preparation and planning to the greatest extent possible. Natural disasters are events that can greatly impact operations in Sanitation and across the City of
Norman. “In the last seven years, about five-volume altering events have occurred,” Scovill said. “One ice storm alone increased our compostable feed stock from 29,000 tons to 82,000 tons in one

As Oklahoma is in the heart of Tornado Alley, episodic winds are also a common occurrence. Strategizing for equipment purchases, planning for staff increases, maintaining effective relationships with private contractors are all part of ongoing preparation in the event of unexpected natural disasters. “By networking through industry organizations and events—the Waste Expo, SWANA, Oklahoma Recycling Association, and others—we are able to cast a broader net for goods and services,” Scovill explained. “The importance of networking in our industry is more apparent than it has ever been. It is important to be a good vendor for your customer. It is equally
important to be a good customer for your vendor. In challenging times, we have to do our best to continue to provide vital services to our community and that means thinking ahead.”

A tractor compiles solid waste at the City of Norman transfer station.

Consistent Service
Scovill emphasized, “The significant effort by our drivers and helpers to provide low-cost, high-quality service consistently—and with the future of community-wide operations in mind—has definitely been an outstanding achievement.” Sanitation works closely with the Communications Division to make sure residents stay aware of any delays or changes in service, in the rare case those do occur. Sanitation runs routes every weekday and every holiday, except for two, to ensure consistent service. Additionally, Scovill and his staff regularly attend community outreach events to share knowledge about operations and logistics with residents, as well as recruit new team members.

A new goal of the Sanitation Division is to incorporate the Smith System training course to help better equip drivers in all facets of driving skills in an effort to keep vehicle accidents at a bare minimum. The training has proven to help reduce crashes and prevent injury. “We recognize that there is great risk involved in this job,” Scovill said. “Our sanitation workers operate large and heavy machinery in rain or shine, and face challenges ranging from vermin to chemical poisoning. We commend the staff that chooses to go out each day to make sure our neighbors and businesses are taken care of and take such pride in servicing Norman in a safe, efficient manner.”

The Fleet Maintenance Division of the City of Norman is imperative to Sanitation operations, as well as many other operations across the community as these staff members tend to the maintenance needs of Police, Fire, Water Line Maintenance, Municipal administration, Public Works, and more. They operate within the confines of a strict budget, while managing a very volatile and unpredictable workload. Anytime Sanitation operates outside of normal business hours, such as holidays, Fleet Maintenance provides staffing as well in case there are any equipment issues.

Work continues at the construction site of the new Administration Building for City of Norman Sanitation.

Into the Future
Looking ahead, the City of Norman’s Sanitation Division has a vision for low-cost viable solid waste management decades into the future. Increased diversion, and reduction are also their goals. Scovill says, “By targeting reserve funds from the last several years, we are able to rebuild an aging infrastructure. By paying for the rebuild of Solid Waste infrastructure now, we hope to ensure a more secure future for waste management needs. Expansion of recycling and composting collection facilities, and our offices provides an opportunity to promote increased participation without capacity being an issue.”

One part of this rebuild has been the Sanitation Division’s expansion with excavation and site preparation for a new Administration Building planned to be completed in Spring 2023. The facility, designed by the McKinney Partnership with major input from City of Norman staff members, is being built by Crossland Construction. It will serve as the new home for the administrative team of the Sanitation Division and as a central meeting place for solid waste collectors. The new project comes on the heels of the recently completed Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Norman, which was completed and began operations in February 2022.

“It has been the good fortune of the Solid Waste Division employees, that we have a community that is interested in the modernization of Solid Waste Management,” Scovill said. “When it comes to requests regarding the update of composting, recycling and staff facilities, the leadership of the City of Norman always responds with a yes.” | WA

For more information on City of Norman Sanitation operations, contact Bret Scovill at [email protected] or Tiffany Vrska at [email protected].