On a rainy first day for St. Paul’s new organized trash collection system, one thing seemed crystal clear. It might take folks awhile to get used to this.
From property owners dumping trash into their old carts to those who’d forgotten that their pickup day changed, Monday’s most common lament seemed to be of the “I didn’t know today was the day” variety.
Bri Allen, who lives in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, forgot that Monday was her new pickup day and didn’t put her cart out. Didn’t matter. Her new hauler, Waste Management, brought it out for her.
“I want to hate them,” she said, noting previous experience with the hauler elsewhere. “But they’re off to a good start for us, I guess.”
A Republic Services truck traversing alleys not far from the University of St. Thomas on Monday morning rolled past as many houses without emptying bins as those where it collected trash. The driver, who wouldn’t give his name, said homeowners either were using their old, hauler-provided cart or didn’t have trash in their new city-owned bins because they used to have a different pickup day.
All owners of homes smaller than a fourplex should now be using one of the 70,000 new carts that were distributed over the past couple months. While some property owners retained their previous haulers — and some may have kept their old collection days — enough has changed for thousands of residents that officials expect at least a few more weeks of confusion, said Lisa Hiebert, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Public Works.
“All reports that we have been hearing is that it’s going pretty well — for a first day,” Hiebert said. “Eight haulers are running new routes and are learning those routes, and new customers as well. There are always going to be these hiccups.”
Officials don’t yet know how many homes might have been missed Monday, Hiebert said. She repeated that residents should put their garbage in the new carts and stop using their old carts. Residents can go to stpaul.gov/garbagemap and type in their address for details about their pickup day and hauler.
Residents’ recycling collection day has not changed, Hiebert said.
Hiebert acknowledged that the city’s outreach and education program that began two years ago needs to continue.
“When you have a transition this large, that affects 70,000 households, there are those people who didn’t know they got new carts in their alley” (despite three city mailings), Hiebert said, asking neighbors to share information with one another. “I hate that some people are surprised and not aware of this. We will continue to put out messages and let people know that this is coming and that the system has changed.”
Not everyone is willing to part with the past. Last week, opponents of organized trash collection delivered nearly 6,000 petition signatures to force officials to put the new system to a citywide vote. Election officials said it could take a couple of weeks to validate the signatures. It’s unlikely that the question would be put to voters before 2019.
Even if the public rejects the city ordinance that created the new system, city officials say it is not clear if a citywide vote could cancel the city’s contract with haulers.
Opponents say the new system will cost many residents more money for poorer service, and that it doesn’t provide enough options for residents who generate very little garbage, such as sharing a cart with a neighbor.
Homeowners have also complained about early mistakes ranging from receiving the wrong size cart to billing errors.
The City Council reached agreement last year with a consortium of 15 haulers to standardize rates, pickup days and neighborhood assignments. The contract limits neighborhoods to a single garbage pickup day with a single hauler, a move city leaders say will cut pollution and wear and tear on city streets and alleys. Until now, generations of St. Paul residents contracted with their own haulers for widely varying prices and levels of service.
Several residents said Monday not only went well, but that they were also looking forward to less traffic and noise.
“I was told it would be picked up on Monday. It was picked up on Monday while we were at work,” said Highland Park resident Erin Jude. “Even better, our recycling and trash are now on the same day. Zero complaints here.”
Starting Oct. 8, homeowners should add one large item to their trash collection: their old, empty bin. They will be gathered up to be used by other cities, reused as yard waste carts or disposed of, Hiebert said. Old cart collection should be completed by Nov. 2, she said.