St. Paul officials question string of missed recycling pickups by longtime vendor

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The company that handles recycling services for all of St. Paul is blaming this year’s unusually harsh winter weather for what residents and city leaders say was about a month of missed pickups in parts of the city.

Minneapolis-based Eureka Recycling has been on St. Paul’s payroll handling pickups in snow-covered alleys since the 1980s, and city officials say its crews and trucks should be equipped for current conditions.

“Last Wednesday was the first time they did both sides of the alley in like a month,” St. Paul resident John Kniprath said Monday afternoon. “The service has gone downhill.”

Like many across St. Paul, Kniprath said it’s taking weeks for what should be a weekly recycling pickup.

The City of St. Paul doesn’t plow alleys, so neighbors like Kniprath are responsible for banding together to plow their own.

Kniprath said on his street, he’s in charge of collecting funds from each house to hire a plow company, and although it’s bumpy, the road was plowed after each big snow. Even so, the blue bins have been skipped.

“The funny thing is, I figured the garbage trucks are about the same. They haven’t missed all winter,” Kniprath said.

Ward 7 Councilmember Jane Prince expressed her disappointment in a newsletter over the weekend, adding the city received about 100 calls about missed recycling pickups in the last week alone.

“So when we get 100 calls, Eureka is getting at least that,” Prince said in an interview Monday.

Asked if the company is responding to consumer complaints, Prince said, “Well, or they’re responding with rescheduling pickups, and ‘You can put additional recycling in paper bags.’ And then they’re missing the rescheduled pickups.”

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Prince continued.

RELATED: St. Paul to take over Eureka Recycling customer service after poor performance, council member says

In a statement, a Eureka spokesperson said its crews have experienced “multiple slips, falls, accidents, and sliding trucks this winter,” and “our top priority at Eureka Recycling is always safety.”

The company sent out additional crews in wake of the complaints, some working the weekends, the statement read.

“It’s been a tough winter,” said Susan Young, the resident and employee services manager for the St. Paul Public Works Department.

“But we do have the expectation that especially a long-standing contractor would understand the alleys and the good winters, and not as good winters,” Young added.

Prince said Eureka is “purchasing trucks that specifically don’t work well in our alleys.”

“They’re also bidding much more competitively to provide recycling services in some of our suburban neighboring cities,” she continued.

Young seconded the councilmember’s latter concern, saying the last time St. Paul signed a contract with Eureka, the company’s first proposal was so high, the city rejected it.

“Their price was a little bit lower on the second proposal, but it is still considerably higher than what they are charging their other suburban customers,” Young said.

The city leaders called the rise in cost a surprise.

“We helped them buy their first truck back in the ’80s,” Prince said. “And if they’re not interested in serving the central city, they should say that. I mean, they’re kind of saying it by their actions.”

In response, a Eureka spokesperson called the claims “deeply misinformed,” asserting the cost of recycling services has gone up across the board. St. Paul is on a different pricing structure than suburban cities, the spokesperson allowed, adding that’s “most significantly” because suburban areas “do not have unmaintained alleys.”

Coincidentally, the St. Paul Public Works Department was already planning on taking over customer service for both recycling and garbage starting May 1. That decision was made months ago, Young said, to consolidate questions and concerns. It will also allow the city to better track missed pickups going forward, she added.