Trash talk in St. Paul on Tuesday evening wasn’t about the US Election, but the new garbage bins the town plans to roll out to residents in the spring.
An hour-long telephone town hall discussing the proposal and the issue of waste management in town was attended by town council, staff, and community members.
The intent was to inform the public of what the town has planned, answer questions, and solicit feedback for a policy to be drafted by administration and discussed by council going forward.
At the start of the town hall, Mayor Maureen Miller gave some background on waste management in St. Paul, which has been a topic of much debate and discussion over the years. She said when her council was elected in Oct. 2017 they made the decision to scale back a multi-million dollar investment in the ambitious waste management strategy proposed by the previous council.
That strategy included plans to purchase a biodigester, a system that breaks down organic material and produces methane gas and digestate, a left over material rich in phosphorous and nitrogen which can be used as fertilizer.
“We quite simply couldn’t afford it,” said Miller of the biodigester. “We also felt we needed to step back, reassess the program and then proceed with a more conservative approach. But our old garbage truck had to be replaced and the new one has the ability to pick up proper waste bins.”
The large, wheeled bins being considered by the town hold 90 gallons, which Miller estimated would be approximately four large garbage bags. Each address in the town will receive a bin with a unique serial number that would remain with that address forever.
The waste bins will cost approximately $200,000, but the town expects to see savings in their annual operating costs from reduced time spent on garbage collection and reduced Workplace Compensation Board (WCB) claims.
According to Miller, a significant portion of the town’s WCB claims were directly caused by staff lifting garbage bins to empty them into the truck. She did not cite a specific number, but noted the new garbage truck arm is designed to lift the bins without staff and is able to safely manage heavier bins. Staff currently can not tell how heavy a bin is until they lift it.
Miller said there are no plans to increase the fees charged to residents for waste collection. The Town of St. Paul charges a $27 fee for garbage collection and $5 recycling fee on the bi-monthly utility invoice which also includes charges for water and sewer services.
Councillor Nathan Taylor is the town’s representative on the Evergreen Regional Waste Management board, and also sits on the Waste Transfer & Recycling Station committee. He has been quite involved in the process and said the key reason for having the changes take place in the spring is to take snow out of the equation while town staff are fine tuning which areas must move to curbside pick up and which areas can continue to have their trash collected from the back alley.
One question from participants in the call was about who would be responsible for replacing stolen, vandalized, or damaged bins.
According to Taylor, Elk Point rolled out a similar waste collection program five years ago and hasn’t had any issues with bins being stolen and has only needed to replace about two bins per year out of the 500 in the community.
“They found that the number one reason that they’re replacing them is just that it may have been a manufacturing error, or it was just too cold and they got hit or fell over and the plastic does crack occasionally. So they’ve just put that into their budget,” said Taylor, who does not expect theft of the bins to be a major problem.
Miller noted the policy is still being developed, but said she does expect there to be some leniency.
Residents of multi-family dwellings were concerned about how many bins would be delivered for those houses. According to Director of Public Works Steven Jeffery, duplexes, which have separate street addresses, would likely have a bin for each side.
“For multi-family dwellings under the same address, I think there would likely have to be a special request made. If you have your basement rented out or something, maybe there’s a need and in further discussion for a second bin,” said Jeffery.
Another question was about the potential for garbage to fly out of the truck and be left strewn about town.
“[The truck] is meant to handle these bins that way. There is a hood, if you can imagine there’s a shroud on top of the truck that prevents the wind from actually getting into the truck blowing that garbage around and leaving it dispersed all over,” said Jeffery.
Why isn’t St. Paul focusing on recycling?
Another question asked was about recycling, specifically why the Town of St. Paul hasn’t focused more on it. Currently, paper and cardboard can only be recycled if residents take them to the transfer station.
According to Taylor, the cost of curbside recycling is prohibitive for small municipalities.
“As methods to effectively and sustainably recycle become more readily available to rural municipalities like ours, council will continue to explore those possibilities,” said Taylor.
He said small scale plastic to oil recycling is just not there yet.
“But the phased implementation of targeted recycling, of more composting is within the possibility of small towns, but St. Paul must first and foremost work at reducing the costs and using those savings to fund future programs,” said Taylor.
Reduce your waste
Taylor also spoke briefly about the different types of waste and how they are collected in St. Paul.
“For anyone who uses the transfer station, you know that you’re asked to separate these different types of wastes into different bins. What can be recycled like metal, tires, cardboard, concrete, electronics is done so when it’s economical.
“Household waste, or the wet waste and the dry waste is taken to our Lafond Regional Landfill. Each of the waste is kept separated because the cost of landfilling wet waste is about three times higher than the dry waste,” said Taylor, who added that most garbage collected from business dumpsters and everything from residences is wet waste.
He gave a couple of suggestions for how town residents can reduce the amount of waste they produce each week.
“The number one thing I would recommend is to leave grass clippings on the ground so they can easily be composted in the grass, helping your lawn. And that reduces the waste that can and sometimes is collected into the wet waste stream,” said Taylor.
“The other part is to separate out your dry waste from your wet waste. The dry waste that you have at home that can be cleaned, like the plastic clamshells or anything that’s not contaminated with food waste, can certainly be kept separate from that household waste, and delivered to the transfer station. At this point, we’re not separating out things like plastic, but we’re always looking for those opportunities.”