Mar 1, 2024 - News

St. Paul plans another shakeup of garbage collection services

A garbage truck with a white cab and a green bin extends a robotic arm to pick up a green garbage cart along a road with trees in the background.

A garbage hauler in Vadnais Heights picks up the trash bins lined up alongside the road. Photo: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

St. Paul leaders announced plans Friday to consolidate most of the city's garbage pickup with a single company and for the city itself to hire crews to collect a small amount of trash.

Why it matters: Garbage is a touchy subject in St. Paul. For decades, City Hall played no role in coordinating waste services until the legal and political saga known as "the trash wars" of 2017-2019.

  • Now, more changes are coming. City officials are set to play a more central role than ever — not just overseeing the service, but actually providing it.

Driving the news: Mayor Melvin Carter's administration announced Friday the city will open contract talks with one company, FCC Environmental, to handle garbage pickup in roughly 90% of the city's homes starting in April 2025.

  • St. Paul also plans to hire crews and buy five hauler trucks, estimated to cost $2.1 million, to handle garbage collection in about 10% of the city.
  • The city's longtime recycling hauler, Eureka Recycling, would continue pickups at single-family homes — about 60% of the city — but FCC Environmental would serve multi-family properties.

The intrigue: The announcement signals the end of St. Paul's relationship with a consortium of five private companies that have handled garbage pickup since 2018.

  • FCC was not part of that consortium.

Catch up quick: For decades, every property owner in St. Paul had to hire their own garbage hauler, which frequently meant two neighbors wound up paying vastly different prices for similar service.

  • After the "trash wars," the city "organized" trash collection — meaning residents now pay standardized rates, and a balkanized map determines the hauler that serves each neighborhood.

Flashback: There have been hiccups — with at least one noticeable spike in missed garbage pickups in 2022 — but public works director Sean Kershaw indicated Friday he's been satisfied with the haulers' performance of late.

Between the lines: Kershaw says some haulers had demanded to be paid significantly more — in some cases as much as double — because of routes with challenging alley access; routes that tended to be in lower income neighborhoods.

  • Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher added it may be cheaper for the city to handle these routes itself.
  • Plus, with its own workers and trucks, the city would also be able to respond to a complaint about a missed pick up.

What's next: The city council will take public testimony next week on plans to buy the trucks — a purchase which, given supply chain issues, could take time.

  • Talks will begin on a new recycling contract, which would take effect in November 2024. The current garbage contract expires in April 2025.
  • Kershaw said the city is already working to take over customer service roles for its garbage program, and begins to start handling billing in January 2025.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that some haulers asking to be paid more were not in the consortium and to fix the spelling of Jaime Tincher's name.

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