CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rick Joseph would love to hand out city trash and recycling bags to whoever walks into the Kanawha City Foodland. He just needs more bags.
"I don't understand how hard it is to deliver trash bags," said Joseph, the store's owner. "There's black and there's clear. I deal with thousands of items every day."
Yet the Foodland, like the other four stores who signed up to help distribute bags under Charleston's new system this year, says the contractor -- WasteZero -- can't keep up with the demand. Stores ran out of clear recycling bags last weekend.
"We are in stock," Joseph said Wednesday. "They sent us one pallet of the clear. I ordered three. That was the topic of my conversation with them today -- why can't they fill my orders."
Bags were in even shorter supply last weekend at the Patrick Street Drug Emporium, manager Ron Tornes said, but were back in stock Wednesday.
"We ran out of all the bags Friday morning. We got the black ones in Monday. Clear we just got in today," he said Wednesday. "The clear bags, they tell me they're short on. I got one pallet yesterday and have four on back order.
In an effort to save money, City Council members decided to privatize the twice-a-year bag give-out to residential property owners.
"I have to take that on me -- the credit, or blame," said Councilman Bobby Reishman, chairman of council's Finance Committee.
He said he came up with the scheme to help appease some of the newer council members who complained the bag handout is costly and outdated.
"I'm aware of the problems we had in the past," Reishman said, when trash collectors complained about the flimsy bags some residents used for their trash.
"There was a savings of about $48,000 ... and most of it was savings on city labor. I thought, and still do, there's merit to have people come to stores twice a year."
Under the old program, people could drive to the distribution point -- typically under the interstate along Pennsylvania Avenue, hand their voucher to a city worker and other city workers would load their bags into the back seat or trunk.
This year, with little or no warning, North Carolina-based WasteZero began mailing vouchers to residents early this month, advising them they could exchange their vouchers for bag at participating stores.
"When we first started we ran out," said Tornes at Drug Emporium. "We got caught off guard. We had them lined up outside the door on the first day. They sent us a three-week supply and we ran out in about three days."
Folks called City Hall and newspapers to complain. Some wondered why they hadn't received their vouchers, only to learn WasteZero planned to mail them out in stages during the month. Another round went out last week, Joseph said.
There's no rush to redeem them, unlike the previous program. As the vouchers say, you can use them between now and Jan. 31, 2014. A second half-year hand-out will start in February.
Still, not everyone is happy.
"We've had a few complaints," Tornes said. "The elderly people don't like the program. They have to get out of the car and come into the store. It's a little harder on them."
That's by design. The idea that stores that sign up for the program will benefit when folks buy a few items along with their bags. Sometimes it works, Tornes said.