For decades, St. Paul residents have had to hire their own trash company and shop around for the best deal — but that is likely to change by October 2018.

After more than a year of negotiations, the 15 trash companies operating in St. Paul reached a contract agreement this week with city staff to create a coordinated trash collection system. The City Council still needs to sign off on the deal, which it is scheduled to consider next week.

“It’s going to be a big change. We’ve had the open hauling system since the ’70s in St. Paul,” Environmental Policy Director Anne Hunt said, but added, “We’re working with the same 15 existing haulers who are familiar with our streets and our alleys.”

Residents sent city officials more than 2,000 comments on trash collection when the city started considering the organized system last year. Many residents wanted existing haulers to be able to stay in business in St. Paul. The contract with the consortium of haulers ensures each company maintains its market share, though some would be operating in new areas of the city.

The routes where companies pick up trash would be coordinated, with only one trash truck serving each block. One of residents’ biggest complaints about the old system was that many trucks from different companies were traveling down the same alley each week, resulting in more pollution, noise and wear on streets.

“We’re excited about the consortium and what the plan could mean for St. Paul,” said Russ Knocke, spokesman for Republic Services, one of the city’s haulers. He said the trash company is “eager and ready to go” but does not want to get ahead of the City Council’s deliberation process.

Standard pricing

One of the biggest changes with the proposed system is that city residents would no longer pay different rates for the same service. The city asked people to submit their trash bills last year and saw that prices varied wildly. With the organized system, some residents would pay less than they do now and others would pay more.

Prices would range from about $22 a month for a household that generates very little trash and has a small bin of waste collected every other week to more than $36 a month for a household that has a large bin collected weekly. Those costs include a city administrative fee. City staff cut that fee in half, to about $2 a month, after some outcry about the original proposed cost.

The monthly prices would increase slightly in a couple of years, Hunt said, when the city has to start paying for new trash carts. Increased fuel costs or other rising expenses could also result in future cost changes, she said.

“This contract allows us to provide residents with efficient and equitable service at reasonable and uniform rates,” Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement Friday. “It also ensures that all current haulers will maintain their market share, which was one of my top priorities. It is the right direction for garbage collection in St. Paul.”

Sheila Sweeney, a former Macalester-Groveland Community Council board member, helped develop a study that led the city to explore organized collection. One of the biggest reasons she pushed for the change was the disparity in hauling costs.

How much a household pays for trash hauling “shouldn’t be dependent on where you live,” she said, noting that Frogtown residents seemed to be paying more than people in other areas of the city.

She is optimistic that organized hauling will reduce illegal dumping around the city because all residents should have trash service with the new system.

But there are still some kinks to be worked out, Sweeney said. She hopes that the city will encourage residents to recycle or compost by ensuring that households see a significant cost savings when they dispose of less trash.