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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Slippery Slopes

Some people are dead-set against any organized collection in any scenario. Even if it costs more, they feel that the ability to choose and the preservation of what they see as a free market is worth it. Often, these same comments are followed by a “what next?” and some speculation about the iceberg of government interference in private lives that organized trash collection is only the tip of.

Well, that slippery slope can slide the other way too. If we can't even consider organized hauling -- which 72% of the cities in the United States have, and you can't blame on Obama or anything else recent when cities like Minneapolis have had organized collection since 1902, making it hard to argue that it's somehow "un-American" -- then I suppose the next step after squelching any of that talk would be to roll back other things that are handled by government on a local/regional basis, like sanitary sewer.

Wouldn't a truly free market approach be to remove the government sewers, or brick them up, and leave people to contract with private vendors to install any of the various individual sewage treatment systems that are available through many different suppliers, servicing companies, and technologies?

That would be a big mess, though, in more ways than one! To me, the savings of having a central sewage treatment plant and all the benefits of a publicly owned sanitary sewer system far outweigh any choice I gave up when I decided to live in a city with sewer, rather than the outer suburbs or rural areas where I could choose (and pay more for) my own method for disposal of such waste. I just can't see that trash hauling is that much different in principle -- if it makes economic sense, and saves the average resident money and time, I'm willing to consider it. Just as I'll sign a long-term contract for a service if the discount is good enough, I'm willing to give up the ability to choose my own trash hauler if it saves enough money and the service is the same.

I think a basic purpose of local government is to represent us as a group of citizens on the local level in precisely the things like water, sewer, waste removal, and roads that make the existence of a city as we know it possible.  If other means of attaining the goal work better, that's great; I have no love of government involvement for its own sake.  (In some areas, it does make more economic sense to have individual sewage treatment rather than sanitary sewer infrastructure.)  But I won't accept that the whole discussion is off-limits for ideological reasons.


Dear John and the Mayor and rest of the Council,

You need to listen to what the residents are telling you. The residents of Maplewood don't want the City Council to "waste" your time on this. You can throw your "Wish list" away that you made up last night John, because we don't wish to have it. The discussions should be 100% over with. Quit trying to press your agenda forward. According to what I heard last night your discussions should be off-limits for residential reasons. Best advice I can give you, drop it!
JoAnn Evans, resident of Maplewood.

Thanks for the comments, JoAnn.

To be honest, I thought the NSWMA was going to be able to turn out more people than that.

I thought the picture of the postcards returned that quickly was impressive, almost 1000.

To be honest, I thought there were going to be more than 9 people for it!

Regarding this and another of your posts.
As I see it, the level of government involvement in garbage disposal and sanitary sewer is already on par. There are standards by which both sewage and garbage are treated and disposed of at central facilities. The difference between the two systems is the manner of transporting the waste from a residence to the central processing facility. Plumbing at the residence is the responsibility of the homeowner as is putting trash in a cart and hauling it to the curb.
The real comparison comes down to whether or not the city ought to dictate residents may use only one private plumbing or trash collection business to "connect to" the central waste processing facility. You appear to think yes for trash collection and no for plumbing contractors. It's not the business of government to make private enterprise price-value decisions for residents. It has become the business of government to consider street wear and fuel usage/emission concerns. The case hasn't been quantitatively made that a single hauler model is the only or most innovative solution to any legitimate areas of government interest. The emergence of a trash hauling "hub and spoke" model using significantly lighter vehicles is one example of innovative high-value private business activity available in some metro cities. A model that could readily lead to weight-based residential fees rather than fixed container size (no matter if it's full, overflowing or almost empty) billing. That model will not take hold in any city that's not open to competition by a start-up operation. Regulated monopolies aren't known for innovation or a willingness to rethink a basic business model that's sufficiently profitable.

I think the city ought to seriously consider the possibility it hasn't fully discussed all options and is too focused on justifying an action it has wanted to take for many years. I encourage you to keep in mind how easy it is to argue for an idea that residents see as little more than a solution in search of a problem. Most residents aren't that attached to their chosen trash hauler- they are attached to having choices if there seems to be little benefit in having no choice.

Those are some very good comments, Ellen.

Right now, haulers typically use very heavy vehicles. According to MnDOT, a garbage truck traveling down the street is on average equivalent to the impact of 1000 cars. (I think the range is something like 800 to 2800, depending on how loaded the truck is.)

Right now, haulers in Maplewood offer relatively little incentive for smaller trash containers and reduction in trash volume. I think one hauler charges $1 more for 60 gallons versus 30, and $1 more than that for 90, for example. Of course, this makes sense because their cost is more dependent on making a stop than how big a container their hydraulics lift up once they've stopped.

If haulers moved to lighter vehicles and a weight/volume-based pricing model, those changes would certainly remove some of the arguments in favor of organization.

Thanks for taking time to read and consider my comments. I recently discovered the "hub and spoke" method being used by a new hauler in other cities and was very intrigued. Those trucks weigh about 18,000 pounds and serve about 120-130 houses before transferring loads to a centrally located larger vehicle for transport to the disposal facility. That company is the one looking at weight-based pricing. It's a new concept and won't take hold in cities without open competition. It's the first big innovation in how trash is actually collected I've seen in many years.

I recycle much more than I put in my trash - usually my trash consists of one 13 gallon garbage bag inside my 30 gallon container. I see others with trash spilling out of their 60 gallon containers. To some degree, I'm subsidizing those who won't pay for a large enough container. :(
If the city wants to go ahead with single hauler or limiting the number of haulers, I recommend thinking a bit more out of the box. Some examples: I'd prefer either a smaller container or bi-weekly pickup. Why stop every week for a 13 gallon bag? Isn't it the stopping and starting that's hardest on the streets? I'd pay a little more for the much more quiet and fuel efficient hub and spoke method. I'd like all residents to pay for the size container they actually need - in lieu of the now unavailable weight-based method. (A containter so overflowing with bags the conver won't close is hardly rodent proof:) Needless to say, often not a lot of recycling in these households either.)

I appreciate your willingness to think through this issue. If the city moves forward with partial or total consolidation of trash collection, it might be possible to include new options or benefits for different groups of trash producers. Considering those options takes time, open minds and honest communication.

I appreciate the counsel considering organized trash collection. I couldn't make it to the meeting but returning mis-informed postage-paid cards is not equal to re-organizing family and work schedules to show up at a meeting so comparing numbers doesn't mean much...although the trash haulers would like you to think it does!

Trash trucks will roar around the neighborhood all day today causing noise, pollution, and tearing up the streets (which I will eventually have to pay for too!) and costing me more money than an organized system. I have lived in four other cities and was shocked when I moved to Maplewood and found out it works this way. Trucks will fly by my can until later today when the company I chose finally stops...what a silly waste! This is a good use of time for the city and I appreciate it.

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