Garbage Day in Minneapolis can be like a shopping trip to the free store. This summer, I walked past a curbside stack of terra cotta flower pots thinking I could go home, get the car and come back. No chance. Two minutes later, they were gone.
“Anything I can haul to the curb they will take away, including electronics,” said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee. “As a resident of Minneapolis, I get a fantastic deal on garbage pickup.”
The Minneapolis system is actually a public-private partnership that was born 30 years ago, when City Council members were trying to reduce the number of city employees. Before then, all of the garbage pickup in Minneapolis was done by city-paid crews.
System uses city trucks and private haulers
Now, the work is split between city-staffed trucks and private haulers under contract to the city. Homeowners pay the city regardless of who is hauling away their trash. Those fees cover the cost of the service, which was previously paid for with property tax revenue.
Sally Howard, a City Council member at the time the switch was made, remembers that city crews wanted three people assigned to each truck. The private haulers said the work could be done by two people and set the price for the service based on a two-person crew. The city workers then agreed to the two-person crew, which is still the standard.
“We had a lot of guys ready to retire, so there was no massive layoff,” says Howard. “I don’t think city homeowners cared.”
Minneapolis’ unified hauler system has many advocates, but that hasn’t stopped periodic skirmishes when several Twin Cities suburbs have tried to implement coordinated trash pickup policies. Under community pressure, few communities have been willing to buck the status-quo system, where residents are free to choose their own hauler, rather than rely on the city’s choice.
Until recently, that is.
Last week, after months of contentious debate, Maplewood became the first metro city since 1991 to approve a Minneapolis-type system, although the city’s plan will use a private hauler. Now, Roseville is considering such a system, too.
Systems like Minneapolis’ save gas and limit wear and tear on a road by eliminating multiple trucks on neighborhood streets.
St. Paul residents on their own
In St. Paul, meanwhile, residents must find their own licensed garbage hauler, each with their own prices and rules.
“The results of individuals contracting separately are uneven service,” says Colvin Roy of the St. Paul system. She thinks the Minneapolis system prevents the “dumping of large items in various alleys and vacant property.”
(The salesperson I talked to at one licensed hauler for St. Paul said there was no extra charge for a 95-gallon garbage cart and that pickup charges would be about $55 every two months. There was also a $3 charge for each extra bag left next to the cart. For bigger stuff, residents have to call ahead. The hauler will pick up computers, television sets and appliances for $60 each and charges $25 for a mattress or recliner $25. In Minneapolis, all of that stuff would be picked up free – and without having to call ahead.)
Here’s how the system works in Minneapolis:
Once a week, residents roll city-supplied, standard-size garbage carts to the curb or into the alley for pickup. They can add two other bags or boxes of trash to the pile each week. They can also toss on bagged yard waste and bundled brush clippings.
The charge is $24 a month less a $7 recycling credit. Add to that a $5 a week charge for a 94-gallon garbage cart that holds 200 pounds, and it all comes out to about $39 a month or about $465 a year. If that sounds steep, residents who don’t have much garbage can get a 22-gallon cart that holds 40 pounds for $2 a week.
In Minneapolis, recycling is collected every other week — and the trucks also will pick up two large unwanted items. They’ll take a couch, a hide-a-bed, even a dishwasher — all that stuff that costs across the river.
If the item can be burned, it’s taken away on pickup day. If it needs to be recycled, the crew will come back the next business day to take the stuff.
Neither city picks up construction or remodeling waste, but there are options. In Minneapolis, the option is free; in St. Paul, residents have to pay.
Vouchers for construction waste
In Minneapolis, everyone who has garbage collection is entitled to six vouchers a year to drop off trash, including construction waste, at the South Transfer Station. Residents also get two vouchers a year to drop off tires.
Each trash voucher is good for up to one ton of material. Each load is limited to two appliances, including televisions and computers. But they will take additional TVs for $20 each.
In St. Paul, the man to see is John Mudek of Mudek Hauling and JJ Recycling. He has his own dump and takes construction waste. He rents large, roll-off trash bins for $257, including tax, or folks can go the cheap way and take the stuff to him.
A pickup load costs $40 and can include cardboard, paper, wood, dirt, sheetrock, carpeting and metal. He charges $10 for an appliance.
“I’m the only one doing this sort of thing,” he says. Mudek stays away from the more standard recyclable items like glass and plastic.
In St. Paul, those are handled by Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit company. Bins are available free of charge.
Those who don’t live in Minneapolis still might be able to work out an arrangement with the city to drop off waste at the South Transfer Station, but there are costs.
That ton of trash a city resident drops off for free will cost about $89. Appliances, televisions and computers will cost $20 each. A 17-inch tire costs $2.50. Non-residents need a valid driver’s license and must pay with a check or cash.
The final note is that none of the Minneapolis garbage goes into a landfill. It is all burned at the Hennepin Energy Resource Co., where it is turned into electricity and sold to Xcel Energy. This generates enough power for 25,000 homes.
“The rate payers cover the cost of the service, and no property tax money is used,” says Colvin Roy of the city garbage program. The city would not save any money by cutting back on the program because since 1981 it has been a “revenue neutral” part of the budget that pays for itself.
“Rates are similar, but Minneapolis provides more service for the same amount of money,” says Colvin Roy, who definitely thinks Minneapolis offers the best trash deal around.