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st. paul's new recycling system leaves some residents frustrated

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st. paul's new recycling system leaves some residents frustrated

as a light snow fell on st. paul’s east side, michael richie still was waiting for a eureka recycling truck to come empty his overflowing cart. two weeks, he said, no truck.

“maybe they skipped me,” he said, hoping that this week would be different. “i’m running out of room.”

eureka and st. paul city officials estimate that richie has had plenty of company during the past two weeks, which saw the first runs for eureka’s new automated recycling trucks with nearly 80,000 new recycling bins. then add in the new recycling days and alley pickup. for at least several hundred customers, the new system has been frustrating.

“a lot has changed,” said lynn hoffman, eureka co-president. “we’re seeing normalization in sight, but it’s going to take a while.”

on jan. 16, st. paul and eureka moved to a new recyclables collection system that replaced the small blue bins that residents put at their curbs with lidded, 64-gallon carts. the new carts must stay and be placed, at least for 75 percent of homes that have an alley, in the alley.

trouble popped up almost from the beginning.

some recycling bins are placed incorrectly in many locations, making it hard for the recycling truck device to make its rounds in st. paul.

elizabeth flores - star tribune, star tribune

some recycling bins are placed incorrectly in many locations, making it hard for the recycling truck device to make its rounds in st. paul.

st. paul does not plow alleys. if residents don’t have a private contractor to do it, most alleys can be tough to navigate in winter. add that to last week’s ice storm, and some homes got missed. in many cases, the driver left a tag on the cart explaining why it was p ed over, hoffman said.

that hasn’t been the only problem, admitted anne hunt, environmental policy director for st. paul mayor chris coleman. to save money, the city decided to have eureka use trucks with automated arms to lift and dump the carts. but the truck may not be able to pick up a cart that’s too close to a garage or too far from the edge of the alley or facing the wrong way. sometimes, people have put plastic bags in them — also a no-no.

“this is by far the biggest change we have made to the recycling program in 25 years,” said hunt, who began working on recycling issues in 1988.

to get residents up to speed, hunt said the city sent out notices with utility bills in november about new pickup days and location changes. then, in early december, the city sent another mailing to inform residents. in january, a brochure accompanied the 78,000 blue carts that were delivered to homes.

still, more than a few hiccups occurred, with complaints lodged everywhere from eureka’s website to facebook pages for several st. paul neighborhoods.

last week, hoffman said, eureka “attempted to service” 90 percent of st. paul households. carts were “picked up and tipped” at 60 percent of the city’s households. the 40 percent who didn’t get picked up either did not participate in the program or their carts were inaccessible.

“i know that it’s confusing,” hunt said. “i have appreciated that people have been patient with us.”

the hope is the big lidded carts will prompt more people to recycle. the city estimates the new system will lead to 15 percent more residents recycling and 35 percent more material collected, hunt said.

“what we heard from residents, loud and clear, is that they wanted it to be easier for them,” hunt said of surveys and interviews the city conducted while formulating the new system.

“we’re hoping in the next couple of weeks, it should be running like clockwork,” she said.

mike sonn, who lives in st. paul’s macalester-groveland neighborhood, has seen the complaints on the facebook pages. he doesn’t share them.

“my day is monday and i have had two pickups with no trouble,” he said. and, he added, “from what i can tell, nobody in my immediate area has had an issue either.”

to ease uncollected items, eureka for this week only added workers to its truck crews and allowed residents to put extra recyclables next to the carts. the education effort, too, continues. hoffman said the city is expected to send out another round of instructions next week.

“it’s going to take some patience,” she said. “we’ve got everybody we can out there. we are working like crazy.”