E-DEMOCRACY | Garbage pickup in St. Paul


From: Michele St. Martin Date: Nov 01 13:48

Any suggestions for an economical, reliable garbage pick up service? We prefer locally owned & small is beautiful!

Michele St. Martin

Como Park

From: Steen Erikson Date: Nov 01 23:40

St. Paul needs a single-hauler system managed by the city. One truck down the alley each week instead of 6. Cost control. Efficiency.

Steen Erikson

Como Park

From: Christopher Mitchell Date: Nov 01 14:11

We’ve been happy with Pete’s but I would recommend asking what your neighbors use to minimize unnecessary wear and tear on the alley and streets. Most of our alley uses Pete’s and it is really nice to keep disruption to minimum.

From: Jack Ferman Date: Nov 01 16:34

Boy am I glad I am in Minneapolis where the City lets the contracts for private haulers – one neighborhood, one hauler. Some haulers might get sloppy every once in a while and leave spillage on the alley or street. By the St Paul method it seems all the different haulers would point fingers to each other and none would have to take responsibility. Think about it a bit.

Sent from my iPad

John Ferman

Kingfield Neighborhood

Minneapolis, MN

From: Diggitt Date: Nov 01 23:54

I thought the idea is that competition controls costs. Maybe my New York is showing, but if one company has a monopoly, how do you control costs and how do you keep the company or its union from holding the municipality to ransom?

Diggitt McLaughlin

West Side

From: Shannon O’Toole Date: Nov 02 11:34

The thought on garbage haulers is that it would be more economical for providers and consumers to organize by neighborhood or other smaller contiguous group. The hauler would make fewer trips for the same number of customers. Attempts to do this over the years have been viewed as akin to introducing communism because we apparently really like our trash haulers. In our case we stayed with Veolia a long time because we liked the driver and he was very accommodating. Our current hauler was local and cheaper when we began a few years ago (after our regular Veolia hauler was assigned to a new route), maybe not now, so I am watching all these recommendations with interest!

Shannon M. O’Toole

From: Neala Schleuning Date: Nov 02 20:00

Competition doesn’t necessarily control costs. Check out health care. Medicare (the biggest insurance company) negotiates for lower prices, because they have so many customers, and they’re spending taxpayer dollars. Don’t forget, too, that all those huge trucks on the streets tear them up. Guess who pays?

From: Bob Spaulding Date: Nov 10 15:57

Like Joe, I too would always welcome a more robust study of the pros and cons of the way local cities deal with garbage pickup.

I also think what sometimes get lost in the discussion over how we pick up garbage is that we can choose from a spectrum of options, not just two. On the one end of the spectrum, the system could be entirely city run. But there’s a very legitimate argument that government maybe shouldn’t do what the private marketplace is able to do pretty well already. On the other end of the spectrum, we could retain our current system and leave it entirely to the private sector. But it seems likely that running several trucks over the same area costs each house more than one centralized system, and puts a lot of burden on our streets and air.

In between those poles on the spectrum, you could imagine a system where each of the city’s seventeen primary neighborhoods could choose to deal with garbage however it liked – either leave the system as is, or have the district council be able to select or recommend one hauler for their district, or even recommend a set of haulers, each taking care of a sub-part of the district.

It seems that could offer some possibility to maximize benefits of both systems. On the one hand, you retain the benefits of the marketplace, and utilize the competitive pressures of the current system that help drive down prices. On the other hand, by allowing one hauler for a large geographic area, you gain the efficiencies of scale, which also drives down prices. And you limit damage to streets, alleys and air by limiting the number of vehicles traversing the same area. And finally, instead of having a “one size fits all” citywide solution, each neighborhood could retain local control over how they think services could best be delivered.

I see a few downsides to this option too, but the idea very much seemed worth spelling out alongside the other options mentioned.

From: Jocelyn Sweet Date: Nov 10 17:27

Worth considering might be to have localized places of deposit, say one on each corner of the street rather than per household. I am in favor of some type of regulated government collection to have less impact on the environment. I would also like to see recycle deposit stations for the same reason, even if those vehicles are using more earth friendly fuels. Perhaps each neighborhood could have several compost sites as well. I could see having the district councils play a larger role in deciding on the contracts with the small businesses. Prior to the changes in school choice, I also liked the idea of neighborhood pick up sites for the kids rather than every six blocks or so. I thought the kids could get to know other kids in the area better and also save on the wear and tear of the environment

From: Darlene Levenson Date: Nov 10 18:08

We are talking about destroying the sole subsistence of these small, often family-run trash haulers, when we talk about limiting which companies can come into our neighborhoods. Do we really want to destroy our little remaining free enterprise? So many already have had to close because they couldn’t afford the competition. And once the smaller haulers are gone, the bigger ones will be able to raise their rates due to less competition.

On my block, we neighbors spread the word among ourselves about the prices of various haulers, and their amenities, so we’ve narrowed down which ones we use. One has low rates and also will often take extra pieces without an extra charge; just one of his amenities. Will a government-run hauler go into an elderly couple’s driveway to get their trash because they have mobility problems? Will a government-run hauler care if some homeowners can’t afford their rates, and there’s no other option?

Equate the trash hauler issue with the proliferation of Asian restaurants and how we all have different preferences. What if it was mandated that only a few of them could operate within a chosen area, because too many vehicles are driving all over as a result? The small, family-run restaurants would be wiped out by the bigger ones and the chains that could afford to charge less. I wouldn’t be surprised if besides the prices going up, the quality of their food would go down.

Speaking of inefficiency, what about the recycling trucks that go down one side of the street first, then come back to go back down the other side of each street?

From: Chip Peterson Date: Nov 13 01:07

I’ve been meaning for some time to chime in on this thread to describe a neighborhood experiment some time ago and some of the lessons we learned from it.

Concerned about all of the negative externalities others have noted–noise pollution, fuel consumption, wear and tear on alleys, higher-than-necessary prices to customers–several of us in St. Paul’s Tangletown neighborhood (Grid 5 in District 14, just west of Macalester College) organized a neighborhood meeting in the mid-1980s to discuss the possibility of consolidating trash collection. We were concerned about the true costs of the totally individual system. Many of those costs were being externalized so did not show up in bills to customers, but they were no less real.

The well-attended meeting revealed considerable support for as much consolidation as possible. A steering committee was directed to solicit bids from all licensed bidders in the city. Several consensus criteria were identified. We wanted weekly collection. We would prefer a hauler willing to offer a recycling discount to those who would keep cans, bottles, or newspapers out of their trash (this was in the days when the recycling habit was not yet as ingrained as it is today). And other things being equal, we would prefer a local mom-and-pop operation. Participation by individual households would be entirely voluntary, but we were hoping to get a discounted rate in exchange for delivering a substantial proportion of the potential customers in the neighborhood.

After the bidding deadline had passed, the committee screened the bids for price and our other criteria and brought the two most promising bidders to a second neighborhood meeting. Both bids were substantially below the going rate for individual customers, and both did include an additional discount for those household that chose to recycle. The haulers left following their presentations, and after considerable discussion the meeting voted by a strong margin in favor of the second-lowest bidder because he was St. Paul-based (the lowest bidder was suburban), had more experience, and was African American.

Then a long process began of developing materials, recruiting block captains, and going door to door to persuade neighbors to switch to the selected hauler. I don’t recall the exact figure, but I think ultimately about 70% of the neighborhood chose to do so. Most of the remainder cited loyalty to their existing hauler as their reason for not joining the effort.


The results were positive in several respects: the high participation rate, the favorable price, the good service, and the recycling discount.

We had hoped the experiment might prove a useful model for other neighborhoods. Indeed, the Citizens League became very interested because the conventional models seemed to have to choose between two inefficiencies: either those inherent in monopolies, whether in the hands of a municipal government or of a private party contracted by that government; or those inherent in totally fragmented pickup routes. The Tangletown model showed some promise of combining the efficiencies of competition with those of route consolidation, and it offered the additional attraction of appealing to many conservatives and liberals alike.


Despite these positive outcomes, the effort and its subsequent history revealed several pitfalls.

In the first place, it was very labor-intensive to organize. We had to leaflet the entire neighborhood three times: first for the initial meeting; then for the follow-up meeting to decide among the bidding haulers; and finally to explain again the project, describe the meeting outcome, invite participation; and provide an easy form for switching haulers effective January 1. The block captains then had to spend countless additional hours following up with individual households that had not initially responded one way or the other. The amount of volunteer time required to organize and implement the project seemed to us an immense obstacle for other neighborhoods that might be interested in a similar trial.

Second, and really another aspect of the first point, we ran out of steam after the project was up and running. Unforttunately, for long-term success we would have needed to put in still more work to maintain participation rates as the neighborhood population turned over. In the absence of an ongoing system for contacting every new family that moved in, we experienced gradual attrition in participation rates.

Third, we had not thought to set up no system for handling hauler turnover. When our original hauler died suddenly, his family sold to another local hauler. A few years later that hauler in turn sold out to Waste Management. Thus, contrary to the strong desires of the neighbors at the original meeting, in the long run we had inadvertently helped to consolidate customers for a large, non-local corporate operation.


I think the model we developed holds some promise for St. Paul, although it would need to be tweaked in important ways.

Scale is a crucial issue, and it is closely intertwined with questions of competition and route efficiency are all intertwined. At one extreme is the present system in which each household is a separate contracting unit. This maximizes competition and presumably forces certain kinds of efficiencies as a result, but it leads to inevitable inefficiencies of a different type. It raises the hauler’s labor and vehicle operating costs by raising the miles-to-customers ratio. (Think of what our electrical service would be like if Xcel Energy had twenty or thirty competitors, each of them needing to install miles of redundant wires to reach widely dispersed customers.) It also adds costs that the hauler is able to externalize but that we all pay for indirectly: noise, air pollution, wear and tear on alleys and streets, depletion of nonrenewable petroleum resources, global warming, etc.

At the other extreme would be a citywide system, whether run by the city itself or contracted by it to a private hauler. This might maximize route efficiencies and minimize some of the external costs, but it would likely yield the sorts of inefficiencies often associated with monopolies.

Somewhere between these two extremes might be a scale that combines the efficiencies of a competitive system with those of consolidated routes, whether by districts, by subdistricts, or by individual blocks. Within St. Paul, the easiest scale might be that of the district. Each district council could presumably coordinate the bidding and selection process for its area. There are only 17 districts, however. Having such a small number of contracting units could have the undesirable effect, mentioned by several contributors to this thread, of driving some haulers out of business.

Going to smaller contracting units might help protect haulers and increase competition, but it would also be operationally more complicated. For one thing, the internal political geography of the districts varies greatly. For example, District 14 (Mac Groveland) where I live, elects district council representatives out of 17 smaller units that it calls grids, whereas it appears from a quick perusal of some other district websites that many have far smaller numbers of subdistricts or even do not subdivide themselves geographically at all.

The smallest scale above that of the individual household might be the block. I understand that a handful of the individual blocks in St. Paul have already consolidated haulers. That has the advantage of reducing the scale to a point where many or most of the participants already know each other. It also makes the organizing workload more nearly manageable. However, it would require a tremendous number of bid processes (and might consequently create inordinate drains on haulers’ time). Moreover, the block scale seems too small to generate all the desired route efficiencies.

Regardless of the scale of the contracting units, the city and the district councils would have to work together to make a bidding system work. The city would have to restrict hauling within each geographical area to the hauler it has selected. It might also develop organizing kits to ease the work of whatever unit is soliciting the bids and selecting a hauler. The councils would have to take the lead on implementation within their areas, including publicity, a schedule of bids and meetings, and administrative infrastructure. Contracts could be for several years. A staggered schedule for bidding would reduce the amount of market instability for haulers.

Whatever the scale, it would also seem advisable to give the contracting units some discretion concerning criteria (for example, Tangletown’s preference in the ’80s for small, local operations and its desire to encourage recycling). There should also be a predetermined procedure for handling cases where a hauler sells out or closes down.

It is an open question whether decision-making and administrative processes for any such intermediate-scale system could be streamlined enough to make it feasible. Does anyone on this list know whether a city task force has ever grappled with the question? Are there successful examples elsewhere in the country?

From: Jan Carr Date: 16:45

There are obviously a variety of factors involved in this issue — some financial, others related to personal preference.

Further, ferreting out the actual costs of trash hauling and recycling is difficult, since often times a detailed accounting is not readily available.

I took this link to the Minneapolis costs (http://www.minneapolismn.gov/solid-waste/customer/solid-waste_billing), provided by Kevin Gallatin, and made an effort to compare household costs in Minneapolis with those charged by my hauler (Veolia).

Veolia (for my residence in STP) for 95 Gallon service. The monthly charge is $17.10, and the fees amount to $10.46, for a total of $27.56. The fees include a fuel/environmental charge ($2.91), Ramsey County taxes ($5.60), and MN state taxes ($1.95)

In Minneapolis, comparable service would be $22.00 per month, assuming you recycle and use one of their 90 gallon carts. Fees (taxes, etc.) are EXTRA, although they don’t say how much.

However, in Mpls they also take yard waste, appliances, and provide 6 free vouchers per year for taking excess garbage (e.g. remodeling debris) to their transfer station. It appears yard waste can be bagged separately, but each residence is limited to 2 bags of burnable material per week.

In STP we pay for our recycling separately (through property taxes) and I do not know what the annual fees are. Further, we have to haul our own yard waste to a composting site, which for many is a major inconvenience. We also have to make our own arrangement to dispose of appliances of any kind. It’s unclear whether or not MPLS provides curb side service for hazardous materials.

BOTTOM LINE: assuming the fees in both cities would be similar (about $10,00), the overall cost in MPLS is somewhat higher than STP ($27 vs. $32), but would probably even out if recycling is factored into the STP cost. However, since the service in MPLS is more comprehensive (yard waste, appliances, etc.), it seems to me solid waste disposal is more convenient for the average resident in MPLS.

Having said all that — we have tried unsuccessfully over number of years to convince people to use a single hauler on our block. For a variety of reasons, people prefer the freedom to choose their own garbage service.

As of November 14, this thread included 61 posts – read all of them and join the conversation at http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/stpaul-issues/messages/topic/4YdGv9G7cYCrUiQCKRxEHS.

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