When Golden Valley looked at switching to organized trash collection a couple of years ago, one fact quickly became clear.
"For some reason, there is a group of people who care deeply about who picks up their trash," said Mayor Shep Harris.
Battles over organized trash collection, meaning that a city arranges for pickup by one designated hauler, have been fought in more than a dozen metro communities in recent years.
Some, like Fridley and Roseville, backed down in the face of opposition. Others, like Bloomington and St. Anthony, went ahead. But no matter the outcome, it's rarely been a smooth process.
"I don't think we've had any cities that have tried this and people didn't show up to throw a fit," said Craig Johnson, who lobbies on environmental issues for the League of Minnesota Cities. "It's a very controversial issue."
In Golden Valley, yard signs went up protesting organized collection. What Harris called "a very vocal minority" made its views known. The city shelved the idea.
Cities that have adopted organized collection say it's more sustainable. Fewer big trucks on the street means less fuel used, fewer emissions released and less wear and tear on roads. Noise and congestion are reduced, and streets are safer.
And by negotiating on behalf of thousands of customers, cities can get a better price than individual homeowners bargaining with trash haulers.
"There's a strong argument for the buying power of government to leverage 25,000 payers," said Jamie Verbrugge, city manager in Bloomington, which adopted organized collection in December after a process lasting more than two years. Bloomington estimates that the average household will save about $100 a year with organized collection, on an average monthly bill of $19.52. The city still faces a lawsuit from a group of unhappy citizens trying to overturn its decision, with a judge's ruling expected within a few weeks.
'A tyranny of laws'
Some opponents of organized collection have had the same hauler for years and are comfortable with them. Others enjoy the challenge of playing one hauler against another to get the lowest possible rate.
And for many opponents of organized collection, it's one more example of government taking away their freedoms.
"I think there is kind of a political movement in this country where the status quo isn't cutting it," said Joel Jennissen, a leader of the opposition in Bloomington. "All we do is get more laws that can be used against us, and more taxes. When you get a tyranny of laws, the natural tendency is for people to throw off the laws."
Jennissen is a party to the lawsuit seeking to overturn organized collection in Bloomington. Jennissen's group also launched a petition drive to get a referendum on the ballot giving Bloomington voters a chance to override the collection ordinance. Last week, the city clerk rejected the petition, saying it wasn't properly notarized and more than 90 percent of the signatures weren't properly attested.
The Legislature in 2013 passed a law laying out a process for cities that want to adopt organized collection. It was passed with the support of the hauling industry, yet haulers have continued to "subvert" organized collection, Verbrugge said.
In Bloomington, a group called Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice aggressively fought the city's efforts, mailing out glossy, four-color fliers and other information. John Kysylyczyn, a spokesman for the group, said the local and regional haulers have always supported open collection.
"There's something called freedom in this country," he said. "The garbage haulers have the right to speak up on behalf of their customers."
More battles to come?
In St. Anthony, the first city to adopt organized collection under the new state law, controversy died quickly after the system took effect in April last year, said City Manager Mark Casey.
In the first few days of organized collection, "we had just a small handful of calls," he said. "And beyond a couple of days after it was implemented, nothing."
There may be more battles soon over organized collection. Verbrugge said other city managers have told him that they're watching and learning from the situation in Bloomington.
"They're waiting for us to get through the process. They've seen the council's stick-to-it-iveness in the face of pretty well-organized opposition," he said. "There is interest in other cities in going down that road."