COMMUNITY VOICES | Open Saint Paul: How can the City of Saint Paul increase the level of recycling, both in materials and number of people recycling?



The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s new recycling goals call for reducing the amount of trash headed to landfills by 75% by 2030. However, in recent years, the level of recycling and participation in the citywide recycling program has declined or remained flat. The City of Saint Paul is committed to keeping recyclable and compostable materials out of our landfills by making our recycling services user friendly and cost-effective.

We want to hear your ideas on how to increase the level of recycling, both in materials and number of people recycling. In other words, what would make recycling more materials easier for you, and what, if anything prevents you from recycling?

Context of the project

The City of Saint Paul is committed to finding new ways to address barriers to participation and to capture the recyclable and compostable materials that still remain in the trash. To ensure a well-informed, financially and environmentally responsible decision, the City of Saint Paul is conducting an 8-10 month assessment process.

The City will gather input from the community and key stakeholders regarding recycling and waste management services (recycling, composting, bulky waste, litter and garbage issues). The information gathered through this process will help determine program initiatives and services for the next decade. We will utilize a variety of assessment tools including surveys (written, phone, and online), focus groups, social media; Open Saint Paul (this online comment tool), key stakeholder interviews, and community meetings.


For over 24 years, the City of Saint Paul and its partners have provided a high quality, innovative and cost-effective curbside recycling program for Saint Paul residents. The program has evolved over time and added services to multi-family residents, increased the list of acceptable items, opened a permanent recycling drop off center as well as provided exceptional educational materials. However, the recycling industry’s technology is changing rapidly, and the industry can now process a wider range of materials. Saint Paul’s Municipal recycling and waste management programs must adjust and take advantage of new technologies and innovation.

There are 70 comments on this question as of March 12, 2013. Read some below, and the the rest here.

From John Crea inside Ward 6:

I hate having trucks from four or five trash companies rumbling down Ivy Ave E every week. I hate having them hop-scotching around the neighborhood picking up only the houses on their list. I hate the resulting increase in traffic congestion, noise, air pollution, and the extra wear and tear on the streets which we all have to pay for.

I don’t know why the city doesn’t hire a single hauler for every house in my neighborhood. Award trash contracts on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Include large and small haulers in the mix. Keep them on their toes and competitively priced. Because of the efficiencies of collecting at every house on a block, the city should be able to save money for everyone.

From Glenn Schafer inside Ward 4:

It is good that the city is looking at all aspects related to waste management as one issue. For me, the three biggest concerns are: one, multiple garbage trucks serving the same blocks and neighborhoods; two, limited material types being recycled; and three, the lack of a coordinated approach to composting.

St. Paul seems to way behind in effectively managing garbage collection. Rather than having multiple garbage trucks and companies covering the whole city, having individual companies serve defined areas would be far more environmentally sensitive and may be more economical for residents and companies. Competition between companies could be preserved by letting contracts to companies for exclusive rights to serve defined areas within the city; all existing companies could have the chance to compete, perhaps with some initial, measured assurances for market share. Contract negotiations could reduce costs for residents, and at the same time be more cost-effective for companies because their market share would be more geographically dense (not having to drive across to whole city–just a portion–to potentially realize the same historical profits). Plus, we won’t have 5 or 6 different garbage trucks running down our alleys every week.

Many other cities large and small collect nearly all types of plastics for potential recycling (even though not all types are truly recyclable–coordinated collection thereof is better management of the waste). Buffalo, New York, for example, recycles everything, as do some small towns in Minnesota. We should be able to do the same in St. Paul.

Finally, city-wide composting has the potential to significantly reduce landfill waste and enhance yard and garden ecology throughout the city.

From Margaret Owen Thorpe inside Ward 1:

The key to greater participation in a recycling program is a program that is user-friendly. Saint Paul’s system is user – unfriendly:

1) Recycling is picked up from the street in front of homes, even though most areas of St. Paul have alleys from which trash is collected. Residents have to haul one type of waste to one end of their lots and a different type to the other end;

2) There are good reasons that the private haulers provide barrels that have handles, wheels, and lids. The mandated recycling bins have none of these. They are awkward, difficult, and dangerous to maneuver down the front steps of a house to the curb. When I contacted the City’s contractor about better containers, the service person suggested I use paper grocery bags. I reminded him that the eco-conscious groceries prefer that customers bring their own reusable bags. But, no, he said, they couldn’t have a different type of container (say, a landscaper’s tip) because it would be inconvenient for their workers and their trucks. Pretty clear statement as to who gets the nod toward “friendly”. Not the customers.

And about the lack of lids? And the contractor wants to take over organic waste? Has no one but me ever seen a squirrel or two go after the lids on trash barrels and then proceed to fling stale pizza and beer cans around the alley? Has no one but me ever been startled by a rumbling ruckus on the front porch, looked out the window, and seen a large raccoon in the open recycling bins. Oh, the present and proposed system is very user-friendly – if one is a squirrel or a raccoon. All those yard signs promoting organic waste collection? Put up and paid for by the Association of Raccoons.

3) Someone earlier on this site said that the recycling workers are courteous and clean in Ward 5. They are not in this area of Ward 1. Practically every week, I find a plastic bottle or some papers left behind on my porch, stuff that spills out of the two plastic bins that were split open years ago by the same workers. Sometimes, it’s on the front walk or the boulevard. In the winter, they often put the empty bins on top of the boulevard snow banks. How many citizens have the agility to climb up there and get them?

They also love to leave insulting instructions in the bins. “Please separate the materials.” – OK, boys, there’s wind around here; sometimes, paper doesn’t stay where one puts it. “Cardboard must be folded no larger than….”

In my 60+ years on planet Earth, I have never been told by a trash collector what I can and can’t do – and what I have to do to accommodate it. I have lived in Los Angeles – much surlier than Minnesota – and Madison, Wisconsin – much more greenly moral than St. Paul. If Saint Paul wants its residents to recycle, it needs to redesign this system so that citizens can use it.

4) In the meantime, I suggest that the City might promote re-use instead of recycling more things.I’ve yet to meet a plastic deli container that couldn’t be used to contain something other than deli. I am an adult child of Depression-era parents. We re-used jars for all kinds of things. I wore clothes made from chicken feed bags. If I wanted to live in the good graces of those parents, I pitchforked the compost pile at least once a week. And it had free-range chickens walking through it, too.

Recycling and re-use are only novelties to people who’ve always had too much.

Thank you for listening.

In my 60+ years on planet earth, I have never had a trash collector tell me what I can

From Bobby Stewart outside Saint Paul:

Hello everyone,

My family owns and operates one of the local trash companies and I wanted to share my experience and insight on this topic. I’ve worked in the industry full time for 9 years, doing everything from being a driver, to answering phones.

The #1 way to increase recycling would be to switch to a single sort recycling system. This does have it’s drawbacks though and merely comparing total tonnages (such as Minneapolis’s recycling tonnage totals) isn’t an effective way of looking at the actual increase. Contamination is a significant factor with single stream recycling and increases in tonnages are often due to residents using the single sort containers as a 2nd trash can of sorts, (especially when first implementing a system). There are other benefits beyond increased volume of recyclables collected as well though. With single sort recycling and the larger carts it’s feasible to provide recycling on an every other week basis to single family homes, which immediately cuts pickups in half. That’s less trucks, less fuel, less tires and is all around better for the environment. Plus with single sort collection, alleys would be the most sensible place for pickup for most residents. All private haulers that I know of who provide recycling service also accept plastics from #1-#7. Yogurt cups, those plastic baskets that potted plants come in and etc. Plastic bags are the one exception to this rule and collecting plastic bags is not economically viable except when they are separated and done on a large scale. This is why the most effective way (at least currently) to recycle plastic bags is by bringing them to a store that recycles them, (Walmart, Cub Foods, Kowalski’s – I believe these may recycle them). When it comes to sorting single stream recycling, the plastic bags get caught on and wrapped around the teeth that chew apart and separate the recycling, causing expensive and costly downtime. The WM Recycle America plant was closed for a full day due to this just a year or two ago.

I have a question in regards to how the city defines recycling. THE MN EPA is calling for 75% reduction of landfill trash, does that mean that any/all waste that is brought to a waste to energy plant, (incinerator – they aren’t near as bad as everyone thinks they are!) is considered “recycled”? I pose this question, because I would be highly surprised if this was the case. If it isn’t, perhaps a more strict definition would be useful or perhaps adopting the fact that the waste is being “recycled” into energy would be a useful tool into reaching diversion from landfill goals.

Many people on here have called for curbside composting collection. This is already available from several haulers for yard waste. As far as including organic waste goes, this is still a new process, particularly around the St. Paul area and the infrastructure to support this kind of composting doesn’t exist in large scale or an economically viable way yet. I also don’t think anyone wants to see 4 trucks coming to the same house ever, (trash, recycling, yard waste, organic waste). Having a 4th truck come to each address or even some addresses would be more of a negative impact on the environment than collecting the small amount of organic waste that households generate would save.

Proposing a single hauler or “zones” haulers can bid on is in theory a good idea. However, many people on here also indicated they’d want the local, family haulers to have a preference, (thank you!). When it comes to bidding though, the preference is clearly shown by the next to zero profit margin the large mega-corporations can bid an entire city for compared to the local haulers. Republic Services for example has over 10 million customers nationwide and makes billions in gross each year. The city of St. Paul would consist of an increase of less than 3% to their total customer base. If my family’s company was to be awarded a bid for the entire city, it would increase our customer base by just a hair under 230%. That’s quite the difference! In my experience, when it comes down to zones or one large citywide contract, the citywide contract is almost always the conclusion the city decides upon. This is primarily because the rates that the corporate companies can offer are much more competitive for one 288,000+ contract than for say a 1/4 share bid of 72,000.

Several have mentioned trash programs like what Seattle and Portland use. Their programs are outstanding in terms of materials collected, however has anyone compared the cost of their programs to the costs here? In Seattle, the price for a 96 gallon cart for weekly service is $89.40 per month. That’s about $670 more than what our average customer pays per year for a similar service. Portland isn’t as extreme, charging a much more reasonable $43.80 per month for a 96 gallon cart. This still comes in at about $125 more than what our average customer pays per year.

Service is really where the resident loses out if a city turns it’s back on private haulers. We give vacation credits for as little as one week of service being not needed. Many of the corporate companies locally don’t honor vacation credits unless 3 consecutive weeks of service are not needed and even then some charge you a fee to put the credits on your account. In Seattle, a property not needing service, (an empty house or if you’re out of town for example) is still charged $6.85 a month for trash service. We provide carry out service to any residents who request it, (for free to many elderly residents), we offer every other week pickup, 1x a month pickup and on call pickups for people who don’t have the volume to need a weekly pickup. With a citywide contract, you’ll have to choose from what’s already been set in place, with little freedom to negotiate rates, extra charges or even service complaints.

The best way to cut down on truck traffic, without having the city micromanage private industry is to organize with your neighbors to switch to one hauler. You’ll likely qualify for significantly discounted rates, instantly reduce truck traffic and overall have more bargaining power with the company providing service. For those wanting a single hauler in their neighborhood, this is already available as an option to you, all that it takes is a little communication between neighbors.

Another solution to helping manage truck traffic in St. Paul would be to restrict the amount of licenses available to haul waste in the city. I believe there is not a cap currently on the number of licenses St. Paul gives out, which directly leads to the amount of haulers operating in the city. The city could drastically reduce the amount of truck traffic by limiting the licenses to say 6, (such as Lakeville did a number of years ago). Over time, only the strongest and most capable companies would survive, St. Paul would have much less truck traffic and more efficient routes without sacrificing the freedom of choice and good service that comes with private industry.

In summary, single stream recycling would be a great thing to see in St. Paul. Build the infrastructure for organic waste recycling and it will come. Restrict the licenses the city provides for residential trash service to 6 and the haulers will become more competitive and efficient through attrition. Also strictly define recycling by the MN PCA so that there is no confusion between “recycling” and landfill diversion goals, as waste delivered to a waste to energy facility should be considered recycling if the current definition is only considered as waste diverted from landfills.

I’m glad to see St. Paul taking a step forward in it’s recycling goals, I just hope they do so in a responsible manner. This topic hits close to home for me and if anyone is interested in learning more, I’d be more than willing to discuss the topic(s) further. Thank you for your time,

Bobby Stewart
Highland Sanitation

From Don and Deborah McCoy inside Ward 1:

Ward 1 – Summit University

We would like to see:
-zoned garbage and recycling collection
-1-3 garbage haulers and one recycling hauler per zone
-alley pick-up for recycling
-more expensive garbage collection
-subscription-only drop-off service for compost/organics collection for residents (like at Patagonia)
-required compost/organics recycling for any business issued a food service license
-required recycling in back (cardboard, pallets, etc) and for customers (cans, bottles, newspapers) for any business license issued in the city
-required business recycling for high-rise office buildings
-recycling bins in city parks, at city libraries, at city recreation centers, on city sidewalks and in all city-owned, operated and leased buildings
-increased opportunity to recycle TVs, computers, other electronic devices, batteries and other chemically filled and more dangerous things than rotten food

We are ambivalent about:
-day of the week for pick up
-time of day for pick up
-carts v. bins for collection of recycling

From Holly Heaser inside Ward 6:

1. Recycle all plastics, including #3-7!!! I haven’t found a way to buy berries or several dairy items that don’t come in plastics #3-7. I clean & save as many as I can and then bring them to Whole Foods, but that’s not very convenient since it’s clear on the other side of the city.

2. One garbage hauler for every area of the city!!! There should be one day of garbage pickup per neighborhood. I don’t like to see garbage trucks driving down my block 4 days a week, and sometimes several per day, in addition to the recycling truck. That’s a lot of wear & tear on our streets & it’s bad environmentally. I don’t care what day of the week pickup is, or what hauler is used, as long as the price is competitive.

3. Institute curbside composting.

4. Ban plastic bags or institute a bag tax. Getting $.05 at the grocery store for using a reusable bag isn’t enough incentive for widespread use. This might be something that is more appropriate to take up w/ specific stores versus the city, but I wanted to put it out there.

5. Partner w/ the school district & add recycling and recycling education to all buildings. I’ve seen a lot of waste at some local schools during mealtimes.

There are 70 comments on this question as of March 12, 2013. Read the rest here.