With some municipalities enacting single-hauler contracts and solid waste franchise zones, competition in affected communities is dwindling. Often, small haulers suffer business-ending losses in those battles.
But one such hauler in Northeast Ohio took a stand, did the work, and took the vote to the people.
While the city of Conneaut, Ohio, located in the northeastern corner of the state, has a population of approximately 12,600, its residents are spread out across the 27 square miles within its corporate limits.
For haulers, managing the miles can be difficult and the challenge caused many professional haulers to quit collection there.
There were three haulers competing for the city’s residential customers, says Colin Fagan, co-owner of C&C Disposal of Ashtabula, Ohio. His firm, Waste Management and B&B Disposal.Some haulers worked without the proper equipment, alleges Fagan, and some even picked up trash in pickup trucks and in fabricated U-hauls.
“It got quite unsightly, and it was getting to be a problem in the city in 2009, 2010 and 2011,” Fagan says.
“Some of our private haulers, for the lack of a better word, were not professional," says Conneaut City Manager James Hockaday. "They lacked what we considered an adequate vehicle to haul in. They were using pickup trucks with plywood board sides and stuff like that. And I mean that’s not okay. “
Residents were also asking for a drop-off recycling station in town, says Hockaday. These factors prompted the city to make changes in solid waste ordinances and eventually, in June of 2016, the city council made a determination to choose a single hauler to collect the city’s residential waste.
“The Ohio EPA has been pressuring all solid waste districts to participate at higher levels with recycling,” Hockaday says.
As the cry for a recycling center in Conneaut emerged, Hockaday who is not a fan of drop-off centers due to the challenges of contamination and enforcement, took a different approach.
“I’m a big fan of curbside recycling, and I’m a big fan of a contractual option where the city states, ‘Okay, we hold franchise over sanitation within the city, well let’s bid it in multi-year contracts.”
The city, he says, would have been split into four zones. Two smaller haulers could have split it and had a combined billing process.
“When that happens, normally the smaller business, which we are, gets pushed out, because you need those residents,” Fagan says. “And you’re still in-between being able to (collect) the full city, but losing the customers you had in the city would squash business.”
That’s when Fagan and his wife, Michel, stood up in protest. Despite their objections at multiple meetings, in June 2016 council passed ordinances putting a single-hauler contract out to bid and choosing Waste Management, to service the city’s residential trash.
Fagan says his company was too small to even bid on the city’s contract as his company could not service the entire city. However, Conneaut residents made up at least one-third of C&C Disposal’s 3,400 customers.
But the fight wasn’t over for the owners of the small hauling company and others who, if the ordinance lived, would no longer work in the city of Conneaut.
So the Fagans, who’ve been in the business seven years, went to work garnering as many signatures as possible to get the single-hauler ordinance on the ballot to be approved, or not, by the people.
In the 30 days they were allotted by the state, they filed paperwork, hit the streets and collected 366 signatures—the mandated 10 percent of the registered voters who had voted in the last Ohio gubernatorial election. This, says Fagan, was no easy task.
“I never thought I would have to do this, it’s insane, but you have to fight for the right to pick up garbage,” he says.
The year-long battle, he says, was stressful. They took some heat for their effort by some on council and around the city, who weren’t happy about what they were doing. And the paperwork took time, he says.
“It has to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb—dot all your lowercase J’s and I’s.”
We met all the requirements,” says Fagan. “The people—the residents—did not want this ordinance from the get-go. The most important part being freedom of choice. They just wanted to choose who would pick up the trash.”
But in voting down the ordinance, Hockaday says residents gave control to the county solid waste district and the state EPA.
Without the participation of Conneaut, the county’s solid waste recycling plan at 90 percent curbside recycling won’t be achievable. So Ashtabula County is in the process of updating its plan, meaning it's back to offering a county drop-off, which Hockaday says likely will result in a recycling tax assessed for property owners.
“So now on top of paying the highest garbage rates in the county, with no curbside recycling service, they’re going to have to pay a tax on it, too,” he says.
“All I would say is, we can’t continue to pitch everything in a landfill forever. When 75 percent of 8th graders think there should be recycling in our local schools – they believe there should be recycling in genera - l how the adults can't figure out what their children already know, amazes me. We are limited in the number of options we can come up with. And I would always say if we can control at a local level what some of those options are instead of letting a solid waste district or a state agency decide what’s best for your community, I would think being able to control it locally is more important.”
The Fagan’s were successful, and on Nov. 8, 2016, Conneaut city residents voted to strike down the measure to move to a single hauler.
Today, the city has gone back to changes laid out in a 2014 ordinance, and Hockaday has announced Sept 1. is the new deadline for changes.
These are good changes to the city’s solid waste ordinance and in the way they do business, Fagan says.
The changes spelled out in the ordinance include a mandatory hauling license from the city, trucks that pass inspection, a recycling program and other qualifications.
It sets a schedule for all haulers to collect garbage at least once per week, Monday through Thursday between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. only, unless a holiday or inclement weather causes a delay.
Additionally, a hauler collecting refuse in the city must pick up one heavy item each week, such stoves, dishwashers, chairs, couches, mattresses, and similar items.
It also requires that all collection be done in inspected packer-style, refuse trucks that display the name and phone number of the hauler with at least three-inch lettering on both sides of the vehicle.
Finally, haulers must offer source-separated, single-stream recycling, which Fagan’s C & C Disposal previously had not offered.
The challenge, says Fagan, is that the rural Conneaut is far from recycling facilities and his trucks will travel approximately 90 minutes away in Akron, or two hours away in Tonawanda, N.Y. He is still working on finding the most cost-effective location for his business to take recycling. In the meantime, he has purchased a new recycling truck, hired a new employee and prepared for collection of recyclables in 13 to 30 gallon blue bags that will be picked up every other week.
C&C Disposal will roll out a recycling program in Conneaut before the September deadline, Fagan says.