City Changes Drive Half of Trash Haulers Out of St. Paul [UPDATED]

Too often government not only fails to look out for the “little guy” but makes life downright impossible. The latest case in point? The continuing fallout from the organized garbage collection system forced on St. Paul residents and garbage haulers last year, largely to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

UPDATE: A Ramsey County District Court on Thursday ordered the suspension of St. Paul’s organized garbage collection system as of June 30, pending the outcome of a citywide vote on the issue later this year (Pioneer Press). 

Residents lost when their government minders required everyone to sign up for garbage collection, whether they needed it or not, and forced them to use a city-designated hauler, rather than allowing citizens to hire their provider of choice.

All Saint Paul residential properties with 1-4 units, including rentals and townhomes, must each have service and a garbage cart per unit. Having all residents participate helps Saint Paul meet our community’s overall waste reduction goals and improves the livability of our neighborhoods through reduced traffic, pollution, illegal dumping, and less wear and tear on our streets and alleys.

It hasn’t been pretty, according to a recent Star Tribune update of the process.

St. Paul allowed residents to choose their own garbage hauler until last year, when the city launched organized trash collection in an effort to reduce illegal dumping and cut down on the number of garbage trucks crisscrossing the city. Though the fledgling system has reduced traffic and created a uniform pricing system that is cheaper for some residents, its first months have included a lawsuit  and millions of dollars in unpaid bills because of hauler errors or residents simply refusing to pay.

RELATED: Will Citizens’ Last-Minute Opposition Trash St. Paul City Garbage Grab?

At the same time, the number of companies in the garbage collection business has plummeted. This despite the city’s reassurances to the contrary beforehand.

Meanwhile, the city has lost half its trash-hauling businesses. A mix of small companies and big corporations were among the 15 haulers that signed a contract with the city in November 2017. Seven remain, including three based outside Minnesota.

The number of haulers will soon drop again. Last month, Waste Management announced it had bought Florida-based Advanced Disposal Services.

The retreat of haulers is happening despite the city’s pledge to preserve small businesses in the transition to organized trash collection.

The latest company to sell out, Ken Berquist & Son Disposal, had been in business since the Great Depression.

But with the launch of city-run trash pickup, the Berquists were assigned parts of the city where they’d never worked, and customers who hadn’t chosen their service. Some of the new customers were irate about the change — and organized trash collection in general — and let them know it.

“I understood their anger. But you could only be sworn at a few times, and then you wanted to quit,” Bonnie said. “There’d be times we’d be eating dinner and the phone would ring and I’d just start crying.”

Bonnie still cries when she talks about those last days. There was a lot more work to do — a new software system to learn, new reports to submit to the city and new rules to abide by, coupled with fines if they didn’t comply. And all day, every day, the phone kept ringing.

So the city’s take-over of garbage collection in St. Paul  turns out to be a classic case of government picking winners and losers. Big trash haulers like Waste Management get bigger, while smaller companies get squeezed out, as residents lose control over a small, yet tangible aspect of their daily lives.