When it comes to talking trash, people often have a lot to say about how it should be collected.
In recent years, controversy has swirled around rubbish removal in the Twin Cities area. Campaigns complete with yard signs, fierce lobbying and emotional meetings have been waged in several communities.
On one side are customers and trash haulers who favor open systems in which customers select and pay for their service and haulers compete for business. On the opposite side are consumers and local governments who want organized trash collection (OTC), paid for through property taxes or another local fee. They want to reduce the number of trucks rumbling through neighborhoods to cut down on noise, road damage and emissions. And some want managed systems because they believe organized collections are more efficient and economical.
As this page has argued before, OTC often is the most sensible choice — especially in densely populated cities.
A decade ago, the vast majority (77 of 108) of Twin Cities communities had open collections systems, according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) figures. Since then, fewer than a dozen communities have switched to organized networks. Some that considered plans, like Roseville and Fridley, backed down because of community opposition. Others, like Bloomington, adopted organized plans despite strong pushback.
And though they expect contentious debate, St. Paul officials have wisely allocated about $300,000 in this year’s budget to evaluate and recommend an OTC. In 1998 and again 2009, city leaders floated plans but dropped them both times because of opposition. This time, a 2015 survey of St. Paul residents concluded that a majority are open to organized collection, though opinions vary on how the system would look. The survey — which included 2,000 responses from citizens as well as interviews with haulers, city officials and residents — was done by the Macalester-Groveland Community Council and the MPCA.
In many of these debates, opponents have said that an open system allows them to deal directly with their vendors, resulting in better service and pricing. Some object to having government interfere with private business competition.
However, in St. Paul, that competition involves trucks from 19 licensed haulers rolling down city streets and alleys. Studies estimate that the wear and tear on roads from one truck equals that of more than 1,200 cars.
When done properly, studies have shown, managed systems can be more economical, efficient and environmentally friendly, while also giving communities more direct control over waste management and recycling decisions.
It’s important to note that there are a variety of ways to approach OTC. Local governments can opt to take over hauling altogether, or they can contract with existing haulers in a consortia put together by the vendors themselves. Or governments can contract vendors to provide service in certain regions of a city. Minneapolis uses a hybrid system of municipal and private haulers, and residents pay through their property taxes.
Since St. Paul officials agreed to consider OTC, state legislation has been introduced to place a moratorium on local governments switching to the plans. The measure would put a hold on a state law that lays out a process for cities that want to adopt organized systems. The moratorium should fail, and St. Paul and other communities should continue to work on ways to provide more efficient and cost-effective collection.