Garbage Service Evolves As Cities Switch Trash Haulers

Aug 21, 2018

When a city negotiates a new contract for waste haulers, it can lead to a change in services or opportunities to lower costs.

If you live in a decently-sized city, you probably roll your trash cans to the curb once a week, and the garbage gets hauled off. The City of DeKalb recently approved a contract with Lakeshore Recycling as its new garbage hauler.  It takes effect in September, and Public Works Director Tim Holdeman says the move came about when the city’s old contract was up for renewal. 

Waste Management has been DeKalb's garbage hauler for the past five years.
Credit Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

"So these are five-year contracts. The contract with Waste Management was coming to an end, so we needed to rebuild it," he said.

Holdeman says the Council considered two collection systems. The current one is called unlimited volume. Here, residents pay a flat rate for a garbage can, or cart, that they can fill completely. But the city will pick up overflow for no additional charge. The other option, Holdeman says, is a tiered system where "individuals could order a 35, 65, or 95 gallon cart for their refuse (garbage) and they would pay according to the size of the cart.”

The DeKalb City Government surveyed residents about these options, and they found that the tiered system saved only a dollar or two more than the unlimited plan, so authorities stuck with the current system. But the survey and new contract did give DeKalb a chance to reassess some of its current services, including three large yard waste dump sites.

“Where the garbage provider provides a 20 cubic yard dumpster and people can put their landscaping waste. That costs a lot of money (to operate),” Holdeman said.

This service was meant for residents, but Holdeman found that local businesses, which aren’t covered under the same contract, were using the sites during off-hours to dump their yard waste, and some parties were dropping off far more than the sites could handle.

“Many times you go by the Dresser Road dumpsite and you see a large tree that has been rooted up. I mean, I’m talking about four or five feet wide, and there it sits, in front of the dumpster," he said.

So the city dropped this service in the new contract, and they estimate it, along with other measures, will save an average of $3.50 on regular bills.  But DeKalb isn’t the only northern Illinois city to recently switch contracts. St. Charles had been under the same garbage collection contract for 15 years and worked with Batavia and Geneva to seek out competitors.

“We bid together so that way we can hopefully gain some efficiencies with one contractor, hopefully getting some better unit cost, and then we sign individual contracts with each vendor,” said Tim Wilson, Public Works Manager for St. Charles.

DeKalb residents will receive these Lakeshore "carts" at the end of the month.

He says Geneva and St. Charles signed on with Lakeshore, with his city making the formal switch last month.  Their new contract allowed them to expand yard waste pickup.

"Three full weeks in the spring to have their yard waste picked up at the curb line without applying any stickers, and then again on December 1st through the entire month of December," he said.

DeKalb’s new contract will expand yard waste to include food scraps, as well as offer e-waste and hazardous waste collection at different times during the year. But unlike DeKalb, St. Charles uses a tiered system of can sizes, with residents able to purchase stickers to pay for containers of excess garbage.   Even within that system, however, Wilson says they’ve been able to find savings.

“Like the stickers, their cost, they went down 25%. If you rented carts, the sum of the cart sizes, we were able to reduce their cost by 50% per month," he said.

The one thing DeKalb has yet to do is give residents new carts.  Holdeman says that will take place in the last week of August, and won’t interrupt service.

“Earlier in the week, Lakeshore will be dropping off their new carts, and residents may have a set of Lakeshore carts for a couple of days before Waste Management carts are taken away, because we don’t want them to be without a cart," Holdeman said.

Even when cities contract with the same garbage hauler, the details of the contracts and changes to services will differ greatly.  But ultimately, municipalities try to provide the lowest cost possible to their residents and make sure everyone has access to a trash can.