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The re-education in sanitation is under way in the Land of the Crabapple.

Residents rolled 95-gallon brown garbage totes to the curb for the first time this week as the town implemented a $1.5 million program aimed not only at eradicating its epidemic of rats but at controlling sanitation costs as well.

“It’s going very, very well,” said Frank Max Jr., the general crew chief for Cheektowaga’s sanitation department, earlier this week. “There’s always a few rough spots.”

By trailing behind a town sanitation truck through a Cheektowaga neighborhood off Williams Street, The Buffalo News surveyed the progression of early implementation efforts.

Some of the “rough spots” alluded to by Max ranged from equipment malfunctions with the hydraulic mechanisms on the back of the trucks to residents not following the rules in terms of what they can dispose of and how they should do it.

In addition to those hiccups, the town apparently underestimated the number of receptacles it needed, leaving some apartments and small businesses without totes for at least a few more weeks. And the sanitation office has also been inundated with residents’ calls this week, many of which Max himself fields.

“We’re feeling overwhelmed in here,” explained a sanitation office staffer, who wouldn’t provide a name. “The phones don’t stop ringing.”

A vast majority of the calls, sanitation officials said, were from seniors calling to request 65-gallon totes. The smaller receptacles aren’t expected to be available as part of an exchange program until after March 1. As of earlier this week, more than 100 residents had called to request the smaller totes.

On the street, sanitation crews are finding their daily routes are taking slightly longer to complete because of the mechanical apparatus.

“It’s just an adjustment,” said Keith Piatek, another part-time laborer.

Driver Joe Farris said getting the message to residents about how to correctly dispose of their trash might be the biggest challenge in the program’s infancy.

“It will eventually sort itself out,” said Farris. “If [residents] don’t want to see a lot of rodents, they have got to do their part. It’s a health situation.”

Grading performance in “Cheektowaga Sanitation 101” finds a significant number of honor students among the Cheektowaga populace, along with others in need of improvement and still a few more who might require a figurative whack on the knuckles from the law’s ruler.

Officials noted that only about half seemed to have detached a blue-bagged instruction booklet tied to the tote. The minority not in compliance with the new regulations were so for numerous reasons, including:

• An outright failure to use the new totes, opting instead to use old garbage cans.

• Piling additional trash bags on top of or around the outside of the receptacles.

• Cramming totes so full that the lid was propped open, allowing for rodents or water to get inside.

• Disposing of illegal trash like paint or other hazardous materials.

• Stuffing the new totes with unbagged trash, including, in one case, filling roughly one-quarter of the tote with used kitty litter.

In another case, one of the town’s sanitation trucks tested radioactively “hot” at its Niagara Falls tipping station Monday. Max suspects a resident improperly disposed of household medical waste, accounting for the issue. That resulted in the truck having to be temporarily taken out of service.

Max said residents will enjoy a short grace period in the initial couple of weeks with the new totes.

That, however, won’t always be the case. Enforcing the new rules, town officials agreed, will be the key to ensuring across-the-board compliance.

“It’s not like we’re going go down the streets and scare the daylights out of people,” Max said. “Most people will comply. Sometimes you just have noncompliant people.”

On the positive side of the ledger:

• A visual estimate showed 80 to 85 percent of residents were compliant with the rules, disposing of household garbage in the new totes with the lids fully closed as required.

• Sanitation crews generally praised the mechanics of the new system, which now allows them to drag the totes and hook them to a hydraulic lift on the truck rather than forcing them to lift up to 40 pounds of garbage 700 or more times per day. Said part-time sanitation laborer Mike McGloin: “Much better. This does save the back a lot – 10 times.”

• Costs in the Sanitation Department are expected to drop dramatically with the totes thanks to projected reductions in the number of employee injuries and tonnage volume after the town fully implements a companion recycling program. A new tipping contract with Modern Disposal, to take effect Jan. 1, town officials said, will allow trucks to dump waste three miles away on South Ogden Street instead of in Niagara Falls, which will further help reduce fuel costs as well as wear and tear on town equipment.

“For every issue – qualitatively or quantitatively – you’re saving money,” Max said.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com