SCENE: Mitch BERG is building a snow wall around his property.

Before he can close the last gap along the sidewalk, MyLyssa Silberman – reporter for National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau, covering the “Fake News” and “Diversity” beats – pulls up in a Subaru Outback.

SILBERMAN: [stepping out of the car]Merg!

BERG: Er…hi, MyLyssa. What’s up?

SILBERMAN: I’m doing a series on the purveyors of brisk, quippy rhetorical memes and their use in disseminating “fake news”.

BERG: Of course you are.

SILBERMAN: If I may. In the past, you have referred to the new municipal trash collection systems in cities like Bloomington, Saint Paul and other cities as [riffles through notes] “Soviet-style trash collection”. Also [squinting] “East German”, “Tony Soprano-Style”, “Cuban” and…

BERG: North Korean.

SILBERMAN: Here in my notebook it says “North Korean”.

BERG: Yep.

SILBERMAN: Are these racist references against Russians, Germans, Sicilians, Latinos and Asians? And how are they affected by climate change?

BERG: No, and not at all.

SILBERMAN: OK, we’ll come back to that. But what do those terms mean?

BERG: It’s a reference to the fact that in countries that try to repeal the free market – among them most “socialist” nations – there is no incentive to serve customers better. In planned, marketless economies, all goods and services are essentially rationed, and there’s no impetus to provide a good or service better, more efficiently, or even more cheerfully than anyone else, since there’s no upside to it; you get paid the same whether you’re a jerk or an Employee of the Month.

SILBERMAN: OK, but how does this relate to trash collection in the Twin Cities? We haven’t suspended the free market.

BERG: Well, we’re going to need a price check on that statement. Saint Paulites are complaining about the service they’re getting from the hauler their city so graciously selected for them:

Beginning Jan. 30, [Waste Management, the hauler allocated to a large part of the East Side by the City Council’s “Sopranos”-style division of the city’s turf] skipped pickups on her street, Cottage Avenue East, for three weeks in a row. Rather than complete full collection Wednesday, drivers exited their vehicles to take pictures of overflowing trash carts and lids that couldn’t fully close. Some they emptied. Some they didn’t.
Now, residents are bracing for financial penalties.
“They drove through the alley yesterday, right past all the garbage cans that were out and not covered with or buried in snow, and only emptied two cans,” said Riggs on Thursday in an email to Ward 6 City Council member Kassim Busuri’s office. “Since that seems to be one of many excuses they use, yes, the lids are not closed, which is another thing they will charge us extra for. According to St. Paul policy, they must close. Otherwise it is $3

BERG: By the way, MyLyssa – my old trash collector would only upcharge me for an over-full container if a good chunk of the bag was visible. The new haulers are gloriously Minnesota passive-aggressive about it, and the customer service is atrocious, even in other neighborhoods.

Who picked up your trash, by the way?

SILBERMAN: I live in a condo downtown, so my trash just goes away.

BERG: Right. Continuing:

Busuri said he’s more than just sympathetic. He’s in the same boat.
“I’ve had the same problem myself,” Busuri said, “where the trash was not picked up for going on three weeks. It bothers me to see a garbage hauler not fulfilling their obligation in the contract. There’s a section in the contract where we can charge the haulers for every collection they miss. I’m looking into that

SILBERMAN: See! They’ll fix it!

BERG: Sure. The city council will cross the actions of a previous city council, most of whom have gone on to positions of bureaucratic power that .can be used against them.

SILBERMAN: What do you mean?

BERG: OK, so imagine you were to park in Teri Gross’s parking spot…

SILBERMAN: That would be really bad.

BERG: See?


BERG: It’ll never get fixed. There’s no market imperative to do anything, and plenty of bureaucratic imperatives not to.

SILBERMAN: So you’re saying you’re transphobic.

BERG: Are you by some chance working on getting a PR job with the city?


14 thoughts on ““Unexpected”

  1. In my 7 years living in the City ofNorth Saint Paul Republic Services has had the city contract. Some things I have to contact the City about, some things I have to contact Republic directly, while still others I have to go back and forth between them to figure out the actual procedure. Generally speaking, I don’t have issues, but when I do, like having my can skipped by the driver, I’ve found the best and quickest solution is to complain on Twitter and tag Republic’s account. It’s becoming the only reason I even keep my Twitter account.

  2. I usually a free market guy but with trash collection I’m not. My city was one that went with city contracts recently. Used to be I had a choice of five haulers. With trash, recycling, and yard waste up to 15 trucks would drive by in the summer and fall. Those trucks made two passes (to collect from each side of the street). It was ridiculous how much truck traffic was happening on a quiet street every week.

    My city has been responsive about collection problems, based on what I see on the Nextdoor site. Personally, I have had zero problems or concerns with the new system. Sounds like maybe St. Paul government doesn’t do well with this.

    Finally, I like that I don’t need to call the hauler every year and and negotiate a new price and threaten to leave because of miscellaneous fees and fuel surcharges that appear every other month (on top of unannounced rate increases). Half my street switched haulers every year to get “new customer rates.” That is a lot of churn and even more trucks coming by to pick up old containers and drop off new containers.

  3. At least you guys don’t have to put up with Trash Poaching.

    Out here in Greater Minnesota, it is illegal to haul trash across county lines. The borders are well patrolled and some counties are even considering building walls. You see, trash is a serious business, because it is about the only business we have.

  4. Well, Reader15, I had the same trash hauler for 29 years. Never had to threaten to cancel to get a good rate, cause they/he charged reasonable rates. When we had something extra to be picked up, we’d call let them know, it disappeared, and half the time, there was no extra charge. When I put a new roof on the garage, I called, about a roll-off. While they could have provided one, they actually suggested a 4cu yard dumpster, and a call to them when I filled it as a cheaper alternative.

    15 trucks a week on your street, you realize that is just 3 a day over 8 hours. Sounds like a First World problem. I have 6 school buses on my street per day.

  5. Interesting story, Greg. Especially in light of the fact that the massive incinerator operation in Elk River has been closed down because the various neighboring counties wouldn’t send their garbage to be incinerated. I don’t know the details and I may even have these few wrong, except for the part about closing down.

    I think the trash business is pretty unclear, bordering on corrupt. No one pays a fixed standard price. A price one can compare with that other companies offer. There’s introductory prices, rebates, matched prices, diesel surcharges, natural gas surcharges, and if you don’t pay attention your price just creeps up year after year as you cover the cost of all the shenanigans above.

  6. This issue came up when I had the contract to serve as City Attorney for a couple of small towns in rural Minnesota. The council wanted to save the streets by banning garbage trucks. The city engineer told them if they really wanted to save the streets, they should ban vehicles that run overweight during spring weight restrictions. School buses. Conversation was abruptly dropped.

  7. If I can’t close the lid, I set the sack next to the can. Problem solved.

    Also, when I trim my Magnolia trees and bushes, I cut the branches to no more that 4′ and set them at the curb, and the branch fairies come and take them away.

    As my neighbor said “Hell, that’s what we pay taxes for.”

  8. The people who live in cities see trash hauling as a low priority, and battling racism and sexism as a high priority. The people who actually run cities usually reverse those priorities.
    Where I live there is no trash pickup. You haul your trash to a transfer station a few miles away and throw it in a container. A few times each day trucks come & haul the containers to a landfill. They collect hazardous waste at the transfer station every few months, no charge for residential drop off.
    I am retiring to the mainland next year (Saint Croix River Valley area). It will be difficult to get used to the idea of sorting trash. I think recycling and separating trash is the city or county’s job, not mine. You want to sort my trash, do it yourself, you lazy bastards.

  9. The people who live in cities see trash hauling as a low priority, and battling racism and sexism as a high priority. The people who actually run cities usually reverse those priorities.

    This may be so obvious as to be stupid to mention (it’s my lot in life), but it seems to me that anything that Guys do is seen as a low priority. Right up until the point where the trash isn’t hauled. Or pipes leak. Or cars get flats. Or budgets aren’t balanced. Or pensions aren’t funded. Or bridges aren’t maintained, etc. I’m starting to think that this is a Rosetta Stone-like explanation of modern western society.

  10. So, when Bloomington pulled this crap, the same arguments that reader15 used, I was using a Bloomington based hauler, Burt’s Disposal. I got to know all of his driver’s for my area. They took everything that I left out and I never had to clean up after them. After all of the dust settled, I ended up with Aspen and Burt’s had to sell out. (FU, Bloomington! You lost that tax revenue). Aspen has done fine, but I still like having the choice. But, yea. The school busses!

  11. “That’s a nice garbage system you got there….it’d be a shame if something happened to it…”

    Theres a simple solution to this, move to the suburbs.

    But alas, suburbs are not immune to the Jimmy Hoffa-esque vapors of organized trash hauling. See the comment above yours. Bloomington tried to institute this recently. I haven’t followed their story so I don’t know if it was voted down, or instituted and then reverse, or instituted and is still in effect.

    Thank God the Crystal city council is still 5-2 majority of conservatives. If this “movement” had reared it’s ugly head 10 years ago, you can bet your @$$ that the current city council at that time would have worked overtime to get it implemented.

  12. Prince of Darkness_666 on February 19, 2019 at 1:51 pm said:
    Theres a simple solution to this, move to the suburbs.

    Bad ideas make it to the suburbs, too, POD. My idiot city council wants to get rid of everyone but they dudes they pick.

  13. Pingback: Unexpected, Part MCLVIII | Shot in the Dark

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