Trash collection brouhaha becoming legislative issue

Trash collection gets people riled up like few other issues in cities in Minnesota, but is it the business of the state to make the choice for them because lawmakers want consumers to have a choice?

The latest city to consider eliminating the free-for-all of trash collection is St. Paul, and that’s forced a Republican lawmaker to introduce legislation banning Minnesota cities from organizing trash collection, the Star Tribune reports.

Pat Garofalo reportedly thinks organized trash collection, as employed in Minneapolis and tried in a few other suburbs, isn’t working.

If only there were a way for local residents to have a choice in determining whether it is or isn’t.

“When you have to pick up trash every seventh house, that’s not very efficient,” said City Council Member Dai Thao, whose ward includes Schmitz’s neighborhood.

He said trash is a top priority for many community members, and there needs to be a better system to handle the disposal of bulky items like sofas and mattresses. St. Paul spends about $250,000 a year to collect and dispose of illegally dumped trash in parks and public rights of way, according to city documents.

“People were just really tired of how dirty it can be,” Thao said.

Boyer said she is optimistic the switch to an organized system could also save residents money, because haulers would be spending less on gas and could pass along those savings to customers.

Trash haulers are worried they’ll be forced out of business if cities limit the number of collection operations that are allowed. Some St. Paul politicians think they can branch out, plowing alleys, for example.

In an interview with the Strib earlier this month, Garofalo said he wants a five-year moratorium on the efforts.

Organized collection survived a lukewarm pushback from opponents in Bloomington this month when a petition drive to put the question to voters didn’t garner enough signatures.

The group, Hands Off Our Cans, said it stopped gathering signatures when it thought it had enough.

It will divvy up the city geographically among trash haulers.

  • Gary F

    It’s about more government control. Just think of the new infrastructure and employees at city hall that will be needed to implement this.

    • That may well be true. But isn’t that for a city and voters to decide?

      • MrE85

        It’s funny how some advocates of “local control” change their tune when a city or county suggests something they don’t agree with. As for Gary’s claim, wouldn’t it be easier for a municipality to deal with one hauler rather than seven or eight? I don’t see the need for much infrastructure at all — after all, most cities already have some sort of billing system established.

      • Gary F

        That’s not how St Paul works. Small advocacy groups find issues that the city council is interested in, hold meetings to placate the uppity peasants, and vote it in no matter how many people object. The uppity peasants won one last year, the parking meters, but bike lanes and stadiums are going to happen no matter what the public thinks. That’s how it works now.

        • MrE85

          No one can stop stadiums.

        • But St. Paul isn’t really the lab rat here. Bloomington is. And Maplewood.

          • Al

            But let’s be honest: Maplewood isn’t exactly the paragon of a functional city government, and it’s definitely not a city I’d look to model. Even when it comes to trash.

        • Tim

          Then form your own citizen group and replace the City Council with representatives that share your views. That’s how democracy works.

          Single hauler or open, either way, this should be a local issue rather than a state issue.

    • Leroy

      I’m not quite sure why Pat Garofolo (who is not my representative) thinks the state needs to weigh in on whatever my local city council decides to do with trash collection mystifies me. It certainly doesn’t fall under the mantel of “Small Government”.

    • chris

      Typical republican hypocrisy. You are all for less government, except when you’re not. We have elections in Bloomington and if the majority doesn’t like the new proposal they can go to polls. Why does the GOP legislature need to step in? I’m guessing it has something to do with lobbyists and campaign cash.

    • Josh

      Let the people of a city decide. Unless the people decide to have only one trash hauler, and then make sure that all the Minnesotans not in the state get to dictate what happens instead. Catchy slogan you “rightists” have there.

    • It doesn’t have to require any great amount of new infrastructure. Organized trash/recycling collection does not mean that it has to be done by city staff using city-owned trucks. It can mean the city contracts with a group of private haulers in an organized fashion rather than having households do this individually. That’s what’s been proposed in Bloomington and will likely end up being what gets proposed for St. Paul.

    • kennedy

      Yeah, I oppose big government, too! The state has no business telling cities or counties how to handle the local issue of waste management.

  • KTN

    “Pat Garofalo reportedly thinks organized trash collection, as employed in Minneapolis and tried in a few other suburbs, isn’t working.”
    Every Monday morning for the past 16 years, right around 5:45am, the garbage truck rumbles down out ally and takes our trash. Then, a couple of hours later (every other week) the recycling truck does the same. Seems to work just fine.
    But the so aggrieved Representative wants that to change- and thinks this is an issue is important enough to bring to the floor. Seems like there might be more pressing issues with the state than this.

    • wjc

      I agree. My Minneapolis trash and recycling collection works great, and has for the 27 or so years I have been at my current address. I’m not sure what Garofalo’s problem is.

    • Minneapolis’ trash and recycling collection works great. It’s a LOT better than the free-for-all I experienced for years in a certain suburb…

      • Kassie

        I experienced free for all as a renter in St. Paul and it sucked. Which is one of the reasons we bought our house in Minneapolis. Same with the bullcrap alley plowing and the lack of sidewalks and bike lanes in certain areas of St. Paul.

        • Jay T. Berken

          Two things that I have encountered when helping collecting money to pay the alley plowing are things kind of on the same side of the coin:
          1) homes or apartment building not paying or paying their share
          2) homes saying they will not pay because they are an end lot with its own driveway (even though their trash is being collected in the alley)

        • Experienced the Free-for-all living in Crystal (13 years), now living in Minneapolis. The single pickup method is FAR superior IMHO, and the newish single sort recycling is awesome.

  • Mike Worcester

    I was honestly surprised by the row created in Bloomington with the proposal to streamline and make more efficient trash collection. Is there something about multiple companies bidding for a large contract that offends the sensibilities of free-enterprise advocates?

  • MrE85

    Coon Rapids & Blaine offer great contrasts on this issue. They are side-by-side communities with similar demographics that have taken different paths on trash hauling policy.

  • Chris

    What?? Pat Garofalo lives in Farmington where the only (and mandatory) garbage service is municipal.

    • Joe

      Well you know what they say: If it’s good enough for Farmington, St. Paul definitely shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

    • Al

      People who live in glass houses…

    • jon

      According to the city of farmington “The city of Farmington is among the nearly 30 percent of communities in Minnesota that have organized garbage and recycling collection services.”

      So 30% of minnesota is failing at trash service… that’s rough.

      But farmington goes on to say: “There are two types of collection systems; open and organized. In an open collection system, customers choose their own waste hauler. In an organized system, waste hauling services are coordinated by a public entity. Benefits to having organized collection service include reduced wear and tear on streets, reduced traffic, pollution, and noise. Same day pickup in neighborhoods provides aesthetic benefits (cans at the curb just once a week), increased recycling capture rates, and excellent customer service.”

      Side note: I lived in farmington for several years, my parents, and my brother, and his family still do live in farmington…. I had no issues with the trash service when I lived there. and have heard no complaints from them about the trash service.

  • Brian

    I don’t think we are going to be able to hash out a line where state preemption of local control is appropriate on one side and not on the other. I assume we’ll mostly all agree that the state should have a good reason to overrule local government on local issues (like trash collection). I don’t see a good enough reason here, but I can’t say “the state is wrong to make a law like this in all cases.” It is too easy to come up with situations where I think the opposite, and then the discussion devolves into everyone calling each other hypocrites.

    It is great to have a single trash hauler by the way.

  • Brian Simon

    I couldn’t be happier with my no-choice-in-the-matter Minneapolis trash service. 3 free trips to the dump each year, large items (mattresses, couches, refrigerators, etc) are no problem. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  • Robert Stewart

    Speaking from a haulers perspective, organized collection as a consortium will be a net loss for the city. A loss in customer service (our contract is with the city, not with the residents so they’ll have very little ability to complain), a loss in options available to them and forever losing their freedom to choose which hauler they want.

    There are options besides organized collection, the city could put a license cap on the available licenses (they could have did this decades ago, which would have prevented several of the current companies from even being in St. Paul). This would work towards reducing the amount of trucks in the alleys without robbing the freedom of choice from the residents.

    My family has been in this business since 1950, myself since I was a teenager and full time since the day after I graduated in 2004. I’ve watched other cities around the country and what will happen is that the rates might get better (to start) but that won’t last. Once the city has implemented organized collection, guess what’s coming next? Forced organics diversion and collection. What’s after that? Teams of volunteers who will go around the neighborhood and dig through your trash to make sure you are diverting 100% of your organics and recyclables. Oh your child put the milk carton in the trash can? $100 fine on first offense. Don’t believe me? Seattle and San Francisco already have these volunteer groups and fines in place. Organized collection is the pre-cursor to the city micro managing every resident’s garbage and fining people/anyone who doesn’t recycle to their standards. Not to mention artificially inflating rates to force people to recycle more as well (I’m looking at you Seattle, with your $90/month rate for a 96 gallon cart, something that’s less than $30 here presently).

    The city needs to put a cap on the licenses, let the free market take care of itself and in 10-15 years there will only be 4-5 or maybe 6 haulers because this is becoming an impossible industry to compete in and in the near future self driving trucks with deployable robots will be handling all of the trash service across the country, something that none of us small haulers will ever be able to afford. So I repeat, put a cap on the amount of licenses and let the market take care of itself, unless your in favor of artificially high rates, less service options and the city micromanaging every residents trash service.

    • Putting a cap on license is the opposite of letting the free market work.

      And your scare tactics about what organized collection brings ring hollow when 30% of Minnesota cities have organized collection and NONE of them are doing forced organics diversion or sending people to dig through your trash.

  • Rob

    As long as tbere will be someone available to efficiently and regularly pick up my trash, I’m not overly concerned with the nature of the entity in charge of getting it done