This is part of a series on the 2019 St. Paul Elections

On November 5th, 2019, all St. Paul voters will be asked the following question on their ballot:

Should Ordinance ORD 18-39, entitled “Residential Coordinated Collection,” remain in effect for residential trash collection in St. Paul? Ordinance 18-39 creates new rules for the collection and disposal of trash and payment for trash service; and requires that certain residential dwellings have trash collected by a designated trash hauler. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote in favor of keeping Ordinance ORD 18-39. A ‘No’ vote is a vote to get rid of Ordinance 18-39.

They should absolutely vote Yes on this referendum, and the reasons why are so clear to me that I’m going to start off my election blogging this year with the trash question. Somehow, opposition to coordinated trash pickup has become a polarizing issue in an American city in 2019, so the trash referendum has repercussions across the ballot as well.

A History of Garbage in Saint Paul

Until 2018, trash collection in the city of St. Paul was the wild west. Residents had to contract their own trash removal from one of over a dozen different haulers, all of which had to criss-cross the entire city to pick up from their customers. If the houses on your block contracted with 7 different haulers, there may be 7 different garbage trucks driving down the same alley on 7 different days. Every day is garbage day! This sounds like a ridiculous hypothetical for an urban neighborhood, but was pretty much the status quo for my own block up to late 2018.

After quite a bit of planning, public engagement, and contract negotiation, the city council enacted a coordinated garbage pickup ordinance in 2018. They split up the territory between a number of local haulers and set standard cart sizes and rates. So today, my trash and recycling both get picked up on Monday along with everyone else on my block. I pay a reasonable rate for this service (about the same as I was paying before, actually), and am happy to do so as part of the basic social contract of living in a city.

This coordinated trash pickup system had a small but VERY VOCAL minority in staunch opposition. From what I can tell, the opposition includes residents and small business owners who had sweetheart deals with a hauler under the old system, a few people attached to small but legitimate complaints about the city’s rate structure, and a whole bunch of cranks who don’t like it when the city tries to change anything. Long story short, they decided to sue the city and won the right to put the city’s trash collection plan to a citywide vote.

So if you want the city to keep its coordinated trash pickup ordinance, vote yes. If you want to abandon that contract and go back to the wild west, vote no.

Why You Should Vote Yes

The most obvious reason to vote for a coordinated trash pickup system is that it drastically reduces the number of miles driven by huge garbage trucks all over the city. That results in less pollution, lower CO2 emissions, less noise, and less wear and tear on our roads and alleys (heavy vehicles do disproportionately more damage to roads). There’s no single step we can take to solve our climate change crisis, but I believe we have a moral obligation to stop making the problem worse, and having over a dozen trash companies operate citywide absolutely makes global warming a little bit worse.

That’s my actual argument in favor of the ordinance, but my emotional reaction is more along the lines of: Come on! Trash? It’s the year of our lord 2019 and we’re arguing about trash? Really? We live in a city! Garbage pickup should be as controversial as “having sewers” or “putting out fires” or “having parks”. It’s one of the basic services one expects when they live in a civilized place. It’s just garbage, people. Geez. Vote yes and let’s move on to solve some of the actual hard problems our city faces. For crying out loud.

The One Concession I Will Give The Anti-Trash Folks

As I mentioned above, there are some small but legitimate concerns that some folks have with the city’s rate structure. Under the new plan, every housing unit needs it’s own garbage cart, and some folks who own 2-4 unit buildings (like a duplex or a small apartment building) argue that they should be able to buy fewer carts and work it out among themselves and their tenants. Frankly, I find that pretty reasonable and if that change came before the city council by itself I’d gladly write my councilmember in support.

But that’s how small changes like that should happen: the normal legislative process. Even if they’re 100% right about the merits of that rule change, it’s ridiculous to sue the city, waste who knows how much on legal fees, waste even more city resources to manage the ballot measure and prepare for the possible results, and (if they win) throw away years of planning and have to start all over again with the question of “what should we do with all this garbage”?


You should vote Yes on the coordinated trash referendum. You should also think less of city council candidates who encourage a No vote on the trash referendum. Please, even if you don’t care at all about city politics and have no interest in researching the city council candidates for your ward, do your pal Ryan a favor and file a ballot in favor of basic city services.

More Resources

A “Vote Yes” campaign site:

A “Vote No” campaign site, whose URL is in no way ironic, I promise: