Rattled by the projected costs, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has dropped the plan he announced last year to provide residents with wheeled, lidded carts to make recycling more convenient.
His decision has disappointed environmental activists, who believe that the easier it is to recycle, the more residents will do it and the faster St. Paul’s lagging recycling rates will pick up.
The administration remains determined to deliver the wheeled carts and to add a program to pick up organics such as food scraps and coffee grounds, although it may not happen until 2017, Coleman’s environmental adviser Anne Hunt said.
“We haven’t backed down from our commitment to make recycling more convenient for people, but we also have to be cognizant what the price is,” Hunt said. “We need to do our due diligence and comparison shopping to make sure we get the program that we want at a competitive price.”
That means that the city has decided to seek competitive bids next year from recycling providers, rather than to renew its current contract, which expires in 2017, with nonprofit Eureka Recycling of Minneapolis.
City officials say that other municipalities get the same or better recycling service for less than what St. Paul residents pay, which is $52.56 this year.
Maplewood last spring rolled out the carts to its residents, who pay $35.28 annually for recycling services provided by Tennis Sanitation of St. Paul Park, a family business. Minneapolis introduced the 96-gallon carts last year.
Coleman has proposed raising the city’s property tax levy by 2.4 percent, an increase that may translate into much higher taxes for some residents when tax shifts and the actions of the county and school board are factored into the equation.
If wheeled carts were added next year, St. Paul residents likely would see a 32.6 percent hike in their recycling fees — an increase of about $17. More than half of that increase would have come from the carts, estimated to cost a total of more than $4 million.
The balance would have come from a fee increase proposed by Eureka of 12.2 percent, which translates into 14.6 percent when the cost of inflation is added.
Eureka’s portion reflected recycling service every other week in the city’s alleys, which combined with the use of the carts was expected to encourage more residents to recycle.
Eureka, which has provided recycling services in St. Paul since 2000, had sought a three-year contract extension from St. Paul for service through the end of 2019.
Coleman announced last year a new effort to boost St. Paul’s recycling rates. It involved expanding the number of accepted products and making recycling easier for residents to do.
The city’s program now accepts many plastics it had previously rejected and uses a single-sort system, making it unnecessary for residents to separate newspapers, cans, bottles and other recyclables into different bins.
Roger Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who briefly ran for mayor last year as a Green Party candidate, said he was disappointed by Coleman’s decision to delay the wheeled carts.
“I think it’s a reflection of where his priorities lie, rather than a negotiated deal with Eureka,” he said. “It was such a big deal in last year’s budget address, and then this year there’s no acknowledgment, like it didn’t exist. It just feels like a pretty substantial departure from a commitment made.”