Orange County’s new automated garbage collection system, which debuted Jan. 1, didn’t collect garbage so much as it collected an array of complaints when several neighborhoods didn’t get their trash picked up.

Those complaints are now being worked out, according to county officials.

County Solid Waste Manager Jim Becker weathered the storm of criticism, as his department received about 12,000 complaints the very first day the new system was rolled out. Becker said a lot of the problem was actually just growing pains.

“We’re finding glitches and kinks,” he said. “People are just getting used to the system, and the new schedule.”

Under the new solid waste pickup system, garbage is picked up only once a week instead of twice, as people were used to previously. Becker said that’s because of the demand — many areas simply didn’t need garbage picked up that much.

James Swift, who has lived in Orange County since 1994, said the new pickup has been fine for him so far. His one complaint was that the once-a-week pickup system did leave a bit to be desired.

“It starts to overflow with only one pickup a week,” he said.

But other than that, he said it had been working so far.

Becker admitted the rollout of the new program had its problems — skipping some houses or whole neighborhoods neglected. News coverage in January highlighted communities with overflowing trash bins that had seemingly been skipped over.

Becker says all of that was simply due to the new system not being perfect yet — some neighborhoods, he admitted, weren’t even on the collection map at first.

“There’s 250,000 single-family homes we’re serving,” he said. “There’s five zones with 40,000 households in each one. Four-fifths are served by a contractor that didn’t serve them before. There’s new equipment and cans. Customers are getting used to that.”

However, he did throw those who complained a bone, saying the county was doing its best to accommodate them and fix the issues.

“90 percent of people got the service they’re supposed to,” he said. “But that’s no consolation to someone not getting their garbage picked up like they’re supposed to.”

Becker said the number of complaints started to go down the second week of the new pickup, with only about 6,000 complaints, and that number fell to about 2,900 the third week.

He also touted some of the new system’s high points. The mechanical arms on the trucks that grab, lift and dump trash make it easier for the county to hire a wider base of employees, he said, such as older applicants and others who wouldn’t have been physically able to pick up and dump bins into the trucks under the former system.

And, he said, it’s just safer in general.

“There’s a trend toward automated collection,” he said. “After 1,000 or 1,500 pickups a day, workers would get tired. Now, they are much less likely to get injuries. It’s safer and better for insurance — they’re staying in the truck now.”

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