Trash bins

The city of Edina currently operates under an open trash collection system that lets residents choose from six city-licensed haulers. If the city moves to an organized trash collection system, residents would be assigned one hauler for their street. (Sun Current staff photo by Caitlin Anderson)

A system for organized trash collection may be in Edina’s future.

The arrangement by which a city contracts with a hauler or consortium of haulers to pick up trash in specified areas is an idea that is now being explored in the city. The Edina Transportation Commission approved a final report on organized trash collection at its meeting late last month, taking one step forward in a long process toward determining the fate of such a system in the city.

In its approval of the report, the commission recommended that the city “create a plan to establish organized trash collection, including a communication plan to educate the community and solicit public input.”

The recommendation said the commission believes there is enough evidence to support organized trash collection, according to the updated recommendation sent to the Sun Current. The vote was unanimous among the five out of nine commissioners present.

Under Edina’s current system of open trash collection, residents have six city-licensed haulers from which to choose. The city already has organized hauling systems for recycling, and more recently, organics.

Organized trash collection is governed by Minnesota statute. If implemented, the city’s existing haulers must be allocated areas to pick up trash based on their average market share from the past six months.

In addition to members of the Transportation Commission, members of the Energy and Environment Commission and city staff from Bloomington and Richfield also provided input. Both of the neighboring cities have implemented organized trash collection systems with some strong responses from their residents.

A benefit of organized trash collection as cited in the report is reducing the number of miles each garbage hauler travels in Edina. Having only one hauler on a street could lessen greenhouse gas emissions, decrease street wear and tear, improve neighborhood safety and lower costs for residents and the city, the report said.

Under the current system, Edina residents may see six to nine garbage trucks traveling down their street per day. In one camera recording of an intersection of two minor residential roads in Edina, 50 garbage trucks went through it in a day, the report said.

A change to organized hauling would mean trucks would be stopping in a more predictable manner through the neighborhood, Jill Plumb-Smith, vice chair of the Transportation Commission and a lead on the report, told the commission.

John Haugen, who led the Energy and Environment Commission’s role in the report to provide comment and advise the Transportation Commission, said one of the most compelling arguments for an organized trash collection system is a reduction in fuel consumption by garbage haulers. The open system that Edina currently uses creates more pollution, contributing to climate change, he said.

Diesel fuel is often used in these trucks, causing particulate matter emissions that can contribute to acute respiratory issues, Haugen noted. Changing the system would be a step toward better air quality, he said.

On the cost side, residents in organized-collection cities saw their rates cut by as much as $100 per year, according to a 2012 report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The report also noted reduced wear and tear on the streets that could lower maintenance costs to cities.

Responses to organized hauling

Despite the cited benefits of organized trash collection, Edina residents have shown varied support for organized hauling as a whole.

For both recycling and organics recycling – the city’s two existing organized hauling collection systems – residents have shown strong support, according to the city’s 2021 Quality of Life survey.

Eighty-three percent of residents gave recycling an “excellent” or “good” rating while 79% of residents gave organics recycling those same ratings.

Weekly recycling collection in Edina has been in place since 1989. Organics recycling collection was implemented in summer 2020.

Getting the organics program implemented was a long process with many presentations and conversations, Melissa Seeley, a former Energy and Environment Commissioner who helped lead the organics recycling initiative, told the Sun Current.

Much of the feedback was positive, as many residents were already doing their own organics recycling. But some raised concerns, like not wanting to pay or participate in a program they don’t use, or objecting to the city in telling them what to do, Seeley said.

“No system is ever going to please everybody,” she said. But “nobody talks about our organized recycling collection at this point anymore, so it’s just sort of that initial change.”

On the overall quality of current garbage collection, 87% of residents gave “excellent” or “good” ratings. When asked whether they supported a move to having one hauler for the entire city, 53% of residents said they were “strongly” or “somewhat” supportive of it.

But having just one hauler for the entire city isn’t allowed under state statute, the report said. A question on using a consortium of haulers was not asked in the survey.

The Transportation Commission report also said it suggested that with more education on the topic, residents would be “significantly” more in favor of organized trash collection.

Organized trash collection within the metro area has often been a point of contention. In Bloomington, after the city implemented an organized system, a group of residents sued the city, arguing that the issue should be put to a public vote. The issue, after years of court battles, eventually went on the 2020 ballot. Bloomington residents voted to continue with organized trash collection.

The city of St. Paul encountered similar backlash with residents advocating for a referendum. Residents had cited several criticisms of the system, including that they already did not use a trash bin, were now unable coordinate waste collection with neighbors, had higher rates with the new haulers and had bad experiences with their new haulers, according reports by MinnPost and the Star Tribune. After a public vote, residents chose to keep the organized system.

More recently, the city of Richfield also implemented an organized trash collection system without receiving significant reprisal.

“Sometimes it’s bumpy and sometimes it’s smooth,” Plumb-Smith said at the Transportation Commission meeting Oct. 28. “I do feel like this does give a real taste of what might be involved in the process.”

In the city of Edina, the subject of organized trash collection has been discussed in the past, but not pursued far because “residents have pushed back to tell the city they liked the current system of picking their own garbage service provider,” Edina City Manager Scott Neal told the Sun Current in an email.

He added that converting to a new system is “not an easy or quick process.”

The owner of one city-licensed garbage hauler, Suburban Waste Services, provided his perspective on organized trash collection at the Transportation Commission meeting. The owner, Paul Rosland, said the move can hurt businesses.

He said that after the initial contract with the consortium of haulers, a city can choose to pick just one hauler. “That’s why we get upset about this,” Rosland told the commission.

In response to this, Andrew Scipioni, the city’s Transportation Planner, told the Sun Current in an email that until there’s a clearer direction from the Edina City Council, he couldn’t comment on what is possible in the future.

Even with the organized system with several haulers, Rosland noted at the meeting that “you don’t have a choice who your hauler is.”

Student commissioner Anna Clark said it will be important to communicate with the public. “It’d just be a good idea to emphasize that this is for the community, that we want to educate the community about this before establishing it completely,” she said at the meeting.

After the Transportation Commission’s approval of the report, staff is now taking in input from various departments, like Community Health, Communications, Administration and Engineering, which includes Sustainability, Scipioni told the Sun Current. Those departments will review that report. Then, city staff will pool those responses into an official staff report to be presented to the City Council, likely in December, he said.

The purpose of the presentation will be to hear how councilmembers view the topic and to gauge the level of engagement needed or wanted in order to initiate organized trash collection, Scipioni said.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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