St. Paul residents shared tales of garbage trucks — five, even 10 per week — driving through alleys in the early morning. Over the past few months, many people have urged city leaders to switch from having individuals hire their own trash hauler to a coordinated system that would reduce the number of trucks on the street.

There also have been pleas from local trash companies who fear the shift would put them out of business, as well as from residents who said they want to preserve their freedom to choose who picks up their waste.

St. Paul is the latest city to wade into a debate many communities across the Twin Cities metro area have taken on in recent years, with mixed results. It remains to be seen whether the Capital City will join cities such as Bloomington and Maplewood and move forward with implementing a coordinated system. But the report that city staff presented Wednesday evening steers officials in that direction.

In February, the City Council sought public input on trash collection in an effort to set goals and objectives for implementing an organized system. The city found that more St. Paul residents are in favor of the switch.

At a public hearing Wednesday, Alexa Fang with Aspen Waste Systems said that the city’s survey was flawed and that St. Paul needs to hire an independent consultant to conduct a statistically valid survey.

“There are pervasive and serious concerns about organized collection,” Fang said.

City officials said that the survey was not meant to be statistically valid but that it was an effort to solicit general feedback from the community — which they also received at Wednesday’s hearing.

Some people told the City Council that the system is not broken and that it doesn’t need to be fixed. Others listed numerous ways they think an organized system would improve the city, from helping the environment to reducing noise to making streets safer.

The city also gathered opinions on moving to an organized system for plowing alleys. Some residents said the current system, where neighbors often coordinate payment between a group of people, does not work well. The report stated that the complex issue should be tackled separately from garbage.

The review of the trash collection system is part of a larger, environmentally sensitive overhaul of how St. Paul handles waste. The city seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and increase recycling. It has shifted to a single-sort system, and in 2017 plans to replace recycling bins with wheeled, lidded carts.

City officials and residents said they also hope that an organized system would be easier for users and that it would result in less illegal dumping of household items and trash.

St. Paul estimated that it spends $250,000 a year picking up waste left along roads and in parks.

Haulers try co-op approach

If officials opt for a coordinated system, they are required by state law to give the 14 licensed residential trash haulers operating in the city 60 days to come up with a group plan, where each hauler would be responsible for a certain geographic area.

In Minneapolis, the city has contracted with a consortium of haulers, called Minneapolis Refuse Inc. (MRI), since 1971. MRI is responsible for half of the city, while city employees collect trash from the other half.

If St. Paul haulers cannot agree to a consortium, the city could go out to bid and select one or more companies to collect trash.

Matt Pflugi, who owns the hauling company East Metro Environmental Inc., said small local, independent haulers have been meeting over the past six months to develop a co-op approach to hauling.

Council members said they would look into that co-op as they move forward with studying organized collection.