In less than a month, Mitchell residents accustomed to having their garbage collected in their alley by city workers will face a decision if they want to keep that service.

Either they will keep the city's service and put it in the front of their houses at street side. Or find a new provider that will be willing to pick up in the alley. Jan. 3, 2020 marks the last day the city’s sanitation crew will collect garbage from the alleys of Mitchell, switching to mandated curbside pickup the following day.

“It will all be curbside starting the first full week of January, and people who have alley collection now and want to keep it can do that through contacting a private hauler,” Mitchell Public Works Director Kyle Croce said. “People aren’t being forced to take their garbage to the curb, and they still have the option of maintaining a private contract. This will help our garbage collection process become much more efficient.”

Croce emphasized the challenges alley pickup has on city sanitation crew and the stress the trucks put on the alleys throughout the city is leading to the change. The automated curbside pickup will cost all residents $12, regardless of whether they choose a 64- or 96-gallon trash container, Croce said.

The changes being made to the city’s garbage service and recycling process has prompted a public information meeting that’s slated for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Corn Palace. Croce said there will be a lot of valuable information shared at the meeting regarding the city’s transition to a single-stream recycling method that begins Jan. 6.

According to Croce, there are 2,300 accounts who have alley garbage collection through the city. Miedema Sanitation and Petrik Sanitation are the two primary private garbage collection companies in the Mitchell area, and both have already taken on more alley customers who have switched services after the city mailed a letter to residents over a week ago notifying them of the alley change.

Jeff Miedema, owner of Miedema Sanitation, said he’s seen a steady volume of calls from customers switching their garbage service to his business following the announcement of the city’s discontinuation of alley garbage collection. Miedema said he’s welcomed roughly 50 new accounts requesting alley pickup over the past week, and an additional 50 new customers have made arrangements to switch their garbage service to Miedema on Jan. 1.

“For a number of years, we haven’t taken on many new residential customers, because we focus mainly on rural residential, commercial and industrial collection, but we’ve had a lot of people who want to keep their alley collection call us,” Miedema said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “The city has always pretty much taken care of the bulk of all the residential houses, but some people are willing to change to keep their alley service.”

Although Miedema understands why the city of Mitchell opted to do away with alley garbage collection, he noted there are residents who still need the alley service in part due to safety, convenience and some people's inability to haul the garbage can to their curb.

Miedema said the largest demographic of new clients seeking alley services are the elderly, and he said he expects to see more people switching because of the difficult winter weather. Miedema said he may need to add another employee and a garbage truck if the volume increase continues, but he is confident his company can take on the load. (The Daily Republic also reached out to Petrik Sanitation, but they did not respond to a request for comment prior to the publication of this story.)

“There are a lot of older people who can’t move that can around well, especially with icy sidewalks, and they’ve been happy to learn they can still keep alley collection,” Miedema said. “We’re not trying to be in competition with the city, and I understand why the city wants to go to curbside. With how many garbage accounts they collect in a day it would be the most cost effective going to curbside.”

Mari Pahl is one local resident who is unhappy with the city’s elimination of alley garbage pickup. Pahl has utilized the city of Mitchell’s alley pickup for the past 30 years at her East Fifth Avenue residence. She expressed her opposition to the change at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting.

“About 99% of the people in my neighborhood have alley garbage pickup, and how much is the city going to lose when we all change to the private haulers?” Pahl asked the council. “We don’t want to haul our garbage cans to the street for the wonderful look it would have on the neighborhood either.”

While some residents are displeased with the city choosing to do away with alley pickup, Croce explained the factors that prompted the decision.

The safety of the city garbage collection crew tasked with alley pickup was also a leading factor in discontinuing the service, according to Croce. He said the transition to solely providing automated curbside garbage collection will be more efficient and cost effective for the city of Mitchell.

“We will eventually see a much more efficient operation, and that is one key reason for the change, along with the safety of our crew,” Croce said. “We anticipate for a reduction in workers compensation claims as well, because we would have our guys jumping in and out of the garbage trucks in alleyways that aren’t paved and maintained well, suffering ankle sprains and other issues.”

As of now, three city employees are responsible with collecting all of the alley garbage for city customers. Street and Sanitation Supervisor Kevin Roth said the job can be dangerous and challenging, pointing to a history of workers who were injured while collecting in the alleys.

“It’s very difficult, because your typical alleyway is 16 feet wide, and it’s hard to even access alleyways with the updated equipment we have. There’s a lot of alleys, and they were made for drainage and utilities, not travel,” Roth said. “We will now have one person operating the automated curb tender (garbage truck) compared to the three it took for the alleyway service.”

The city’s street crew provides some alley maintenance, which mostly entails taking a blade over the unpaved alleys in the fall and spring to smooth the surface. Roth said he doesn’t foresee that maintenance ending. But the city doesn’t remove snow from alleys, and Roth said there are occasions the city had to plow an alley in order for the garbage truck to travel through. According to Roth, residents with houses situated on a corner street who utilize city alley pickup can also haul the garbage container to the side street that could be located near an alley.

“I think we will see about 25% to 30% of the alley customers switch to private to keep the alley service,” Roth said.

Recycling shake up

Before January, Mitchell residents will receive a new 64- or 96-gallon recycling cart equipped with rolling wheels. It will signal the beginning of the new recycling program, as the city is gearing up to transition its recycling process to a single-stream method.

The change was largely aimed at increasing recycling participation and collecting more recyclable items to help the landfill's life expectancy. If the current 26% recycling participation for all city residents can climb to around 45%, Croce said the city landfill will directly benefit from any increase in recycling.

“We want to make sure we’re providing the type of customer service that wasn’t provided in the past,” Croce said. “More recycling will save the landfill on space and money for the future, and that’s really the goal. It’s very costly to buy a new area for a landfill, and no one wants a landfill in their backyard, so why aren’t we doing everything we can to save the space in the landfill?”

The recycling revamp comes after the city ended its contract with Dependable Recycling, the Aberdeen-based company the city has contracted for recycling collection since 2005. The city has been paying Dependable $23,800 per month, but a number of residents have reported various issues they’ve had with the company, including not collecting enough recyclable items that have been placed in the bins. The city's contract with Dependable expires Dec. 31, and Millennium Recycling in Sioux Falls will take over on Jan. 1.

Croce estimated a total of 2,400 tons of recyclable items to be collected in 2020, which equates to 240 trips between Mitchell and Sioux Falls at $400 per trip. That would bring the city's total fee to roughly $96,000 for 2020. Single-stream recycling occurs when participants place all recyclable items in a bin or cart, and the items are then collected and transported to a facility where they’re sorted and processed.

Despite the many changes on the way, the mandatory $4 monthly recycling fee for all city residents with single-family dwellings will stay the same as it was under the previous contract with Dependable. The recycling pickup schedule is being finalized, and it will follow resident’s garbage collection schedule, Roth said.

Although the city will offer recycling for commercial businesses, the city is looking to the private sanitation companies to take on those accounts. For commercial businesses choosing to use the city’s recycling, a 90-gallon container would be provided.

“If there is something we can help with and if the private haulers can’t accommodate, we can step in,” Croce said. “It’s not our goal, and we’re not advertising for commercial recycling, because we want the private haulers to take that business. They’re better set up for commercial pickup.”

Miedema said he is equipped to take on the commercial recycling accounts that his company can handle.

“We’ve been collecting cardboard for businesses in the past month, and I’m confident we can do that. But I don’t want to be completely engulfed in commercial recycling,” Miedema said. “It’s tough because the commodity of recycling now is so low with China not taking the recycled items from America that they used to.”

As for county residents living outside the city limits who recycle, Roth said there will be dumpster rolloff bins available at the city’s landfill for them to get rid of recyclable items free of charge. The county residents will also be responsible for the method of transporting their recycled items to the landfill.

“We’re doing everything we can to increase recycling participation, and helping the landfill will be a win for everyone in the city and county,” Roth said.