The debate over who should haul residential trash in Twin Cities suburbs reached a crescendo this week when the Bloomington City Council approved organized collection despite fierce opposition from some residents.
At a recent public hearing before the vote, some Bloomington residents wept as they begged the city to let them choose their own garbage hauler — a plea echoed in other cities.
“Most citizens, we found over the years and even in Bloomington, don’t want this to happen,” said Mark Stoltman, president of Randy’s Environmental Services, Minnesota’s largest independent hauler. “People like to choose things that they can choose. They believe government should help put in streets and sewers and things they can’t do themselves.”
Bloomington joined a shortlist of metro communities that have organized hauling, including Minneapolis and Maplewood.
In St. Paul, the council voted against an organized system in 2009, after much debate.
Many homeowners would rather pick their own haulers, which allows them to shop around and negotiate the best rate. Others argue that organized collection, in which the city negotiates the rates and services trash haulers provide, has a triple advantage — community control over decisions related to waste management, less wear and tear on roads because there are fewer trucks and overall lower costs to cities and residents, according to a 2009 study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
“A resident can save as much as $100 per year by living in a city with organized collection,” according to the MPCA study.
Many proponents of choice in trash hauling have argued that study wasn’t statistically significant.
But Peder Sandhei from the MPCA stands by it, saying that cities such as Maplewood have saved up to 50 percent with an organized trash-hauling system.
“If anything, the numbers were conservative,” he said.
Sandhei said MPCA is “officially neutral” when it comes to the issue, but “acknowledges [organized systems] is a good choice to make.”
Many metro communities have played with the idea of moving to an organized system, but dropped or modified a proposal when met with public opposition.
Often the idea comes to a council when citizens complain about the noise, damage and traffic jams caused by a large number of garbage trucks on streets or in alleys, as was the case in Anoka.
“There’s concern about the wear and tear on the streets and the repair on them,” Anoka City Manager Tim Cruikshank said in March. The idea to look into organized hauling came from a discussion on how the city could preserve streets longer, he said.
During a work session in February, city officials presented information showing that having garbage trucks from multiple companies cost Anoka $175,000 in damage to its streets each year. The same presentation showed that a multiple-hauler system shortens the life of road pavement from 20 years to about 16 years.
The city decided not to adopt an organized system after holding a community meeting and conducting a survey. However, Anoka plans to limit the number of haulers on city streets through attrition, as businesses close or are bought out by other companies.
In Fridley, the City Council voted 3-2 last year to keep an open-hauling system. The vote came after the city’s five trash collectors and city representatives had met more than 20 times over 11 months to try to negotiate a proposal.
Ousted in Maplewood
Years of consideration and packed council meetings preceded Maplewood’s 2011 decision to organize.
At the time, a state law made changing from an open-hauling system to a city-organized system a difficult process involving a 90-day planning and a 90-day negotiating period with interested haulers. Still, Maplewood council members pushed the idea and became the first city in the state to move to an organized hauling system since 1991.
However, Maplewood’s decision was not strongly supported by most residents or haulers. Tensions spilled over into election season, and Council Member John Nephew, who’d championed organized collection, lost his re-election bid weeks before the city voted on the issue.
Nephew, who researched the issue during his time on the Maplewood council and posted his findings on a blog, said he asked residents for their garbage bills and found they would save $1.6 million a year collectively if the city moved to an organized system.
Maplewood went to a one-hauler bid, which scared small independent haulers, said Stoltman, from Randy’s Environmental Services.
“One of the haulers had 5,000 houses in Maplewood that he lost, which was about 25 percent of his market share of his entire customer base,” Stoltman said. “When you lose 25 percent, that can put someone out of business.”
The haulers organized and came up with a solution to “streamline the process and have a window of opportunity for existing haulers in the community to negotiate,” he said.
A 2013 state provision simplified the process by requiring cities and their existing haulers to negotiate first and agree upon a system, then zone haulers in specific areas of a city — a win for both sides in the debate.
“The customer gets a better price and that hauler keeps their business,” Stoltman said. There’s less truck traffic and noise, as well. It was coming to a fair negotiation where both sides could gain.”
After the change to the law, other cities have approached the issue, Bloomington being the most recent.
On Monday, its City Council approved organized collection by a 6-1 vote. Organized garbage collection could begin as soon as spring 2016 after the city brings a final contract to a single consortium of haulers.
“There’s a lot of communities that look at [organized hauling] and are interested in gaining the zoning and reducing truck traffic,” Stoltman said. “We [haulers] want that, but we think we can do it without organized collection. A lot of cities are looking at Bloomington to see how this will work.”