Carter to Waste Management, trash hauler consortium: Do better

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In no uncertain terms, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and the city attorney’s office have informed Waste Management that the company’s residential trash and subscription yard waste services have failed to live up to expectations for months.

Garbage bags have gone uncollected with bins overflowing while fines piling up for hundreds of missed pick-ups.

Problems appear to have proliferated in November, but repeated attempts to get the city’s primary residential trash hauler to make up for failed collections have been unsuccessful, according to the mayor.

“We have ratepayers who have paid for a service. That service is absolutely critical to life, health and safety. That service has not been provided,” said Carter, in an interview Friday. “Here we are months later, and we still don’t have recourse. In the first 10 days of this month, I’ve got 2,800 complaints of missed service. It’s unacceptable. It’s untenable for me, and there is no solution for me without rebates to those customers.”

$81,200 IN ASSESSED DAMAGES

The city has already assessed $81,200 in liquidated damages to the Houston, Texas-based trash hauler, which is the largest waste management company in the nation.

The mayor’s office said it’s primarily yard waste that’s been skipped, but trash pick-up has fallen behind, too, and some routes have been missed several weeks in a row. The consecutive misses are widespread and don’t appear especially concentrated in any one corner of the city, according to St. Paul Public Works.

On Friday, City Attorney Lyndsey Olson’s office fired off a letter to attorneys representing the consortium of five garbage haulers that service the citywide garbage program, which collects trash for all the one-to-four unit residential buildings in St. Paul. The consortium as a whole isn’t off the hook, according to the city attorney’s office, as their contract with the city requires them to fill in when other haulers fail to live up to contractual obligations.

So far, that hasn’t happened, according to the mayor. He’s requesting a meeting with the consortium’s full governing board by June 15.

“Although no determination has been made, the city is considering every remedy available under the contract,” reads the letter signed by the city attorney’s office.

WASTE MANAGEMENT BUYS ADVANCED DISPOSAL, SERVICES HALF THE CITY

When the city signed a five-year contract with the trash hauling consortium in 2017, there were 15 haulers on board, but mergers, acquisitions and industry departures have whittled the number down to five.

That’s left Waste Management especially top-heavy with St. Paul accounts, totaling some 56 percent of the one-to-four unit residences in the city. The company completed its $4.6 billion national acquisition of Advanced Disposal in October 2020.

Carter said he believes the consortium is working on a back-up plan to absorb different portions of under-serviced routes, but “my frustration is that based on the contract language, that contingency plan should have been in place already, and active over the last six months.”

The city’s five-year contract with the consortium ends this year, but the trash and yard waste imbroglio threatens to derail talks over re-upping it.

“There is no renegotiation of the next contract while this remains unresolved,” the mayor said.

WASTE MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

In response to an inquiry Monday, Waste Management spokesperson Julie Ketchum released a written statement attributing the missed collections to a driver shortage, which is one iteration of both a national labor shortage and a nationwide uptick in home delivery.

“There currently is a high demand for (commercial driver’s-licensed) drivers throughout the trucking industry due to a variety of factors including the rapid expansion of home delivery services, an aging driver population and a deficit of new CDL drivers, causing a high demand for CDL drivers in an era of diminishing CDL workforce,” reads the statement from Waste Management.

The company said it is working with the trash hauling consortium to resolve service issues, but it called the impacts over the past two weeks in particular “greater than we ever anticipated. … We agree that the residents of St. Paul deserve better service and are currently working with other members of the hauler consortium to resolve service issues as quickly as possible.”

GROWING COMMUNICATION ISSUES

Waste Management also acknowledged growing communication issues.

The city has documented wait times on customer service phone lines sometimes exceeding 40 minutes. The company said that’s because call volumes have increased, and at times text or email messages intended to explain the situation to a citywide audience have sown confusion among customers for whom they don’t apply.

“At times these messages to broader audiences may not always match the particular messaging for a specific city,” reads the company statement. “We recognize this oversight and apologize for any inconvenience and will be contacting the city on any media related issues in the future.”

St. Paul isn’t alone in its yard waste headaches.

In June, Waste Management announced it was suspending its subscription yard waste program in St. Paul, Stillwater, Vadnais Heights, Little Canada, St. Anthony, Columbia Heights and Robbinsdale through at least June 30. The company said it will reimburse residents for the missed service, but Carter said he and St. Paul Public Works officials were never informed the yard waste service was on hold and read about it in the newspaper.

“If you’re not going to provide a service, you have to pay the ratepayers their money back,” Carter said. “Our staff has been communicating with the consortium for months trying to get this resolved. … We have not had the same (pick-up) issues with other members of the consortium.”

St. Paul residents can drop off yard waste at any Ramsey County yard waste collection site for free. Residents can search for a collection site at RamseyRecycles.com/yardwaste.

City residents can call Waste Management at (763) 784-8349 with collection questions, and report missed collections and complaints at stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/residential-garbage.





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