Price increase soon to come at landfill
July 28, 2022
Trash disposal in Haines is about to become substantially more expensive.
On Aug. 15, Community Waste Solutions (CWS) will be abandoning its weight-based pricing structure – now set at 40 cents per pound for household waste – and will begin charging based on bag size regardless of weight.
A standard 13-gallon kitchen garbage bag will cost $7 to dump, whether it's full of concrete or feathers – or not full at all. A 30- to 34-gallon bag will cost $14.
CWS Manager Craig Franke said he's moving away from the weight-based system because he wants to streamline the process. "The idea is to speed up the line," he said. "You can count (the bags) and go. Then I don't need an attendant outside."
Franke said he's been struggling to fill positions at the landfill and is currently three staff short. The new setup will eliminate the need for an employee to weigh bags as cars drive through, he said.
"It's not that we want to get rid of people, but we just can't get people," Franke said.
He said he arrived at the new prices based on the average weight of bags at the current per-pound price. A few years ago CWS weighed over 800 bags and found that the average kitchen-sized bag came in at 12 pounds, Franke said. At 40 cents a pound, 12 pounds of trash would cost $4.80. But Franke said he increased the price further because of fuel and labor costs, both of which are up 40% from last year, he said. He also wanted to incentivize people to use the landfill's new drive-and-drop program, which began in April.
Prepaid drive-and-drop bags – which are sold at the landfill as well as Haines Home, Lutak Lumber, Olerud's and Mountain Market – can be unloaded at the landfill from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. A 13-gallon prepaid bag costs $6, and a 30- to 34-gallon bag costs $12.
Franke said there is "always a risk" of a negative community reaction, but pointed out that other businesses have also been forced to raise prices recently, but they aren't expected to justify those changes to customers.
"You go to the fuel pump and no one comes out and explains to you why it's more expensive," he said.
He also said that short-staffing affects CWS differently from other businesses; while a restaurant could always shorten its hours, CWS doesn't have that luxury.
Haines and Juneau are the only two boroughs in Southeast with private, for-profit landfills. In the region's other boroughs, waste disposal is managed by the municipality and funded in part by taxes.
The Juneau landfill is operated by Waste Management Solutions, which has branches in several states and is based in Houston. A different private company, Alaska Waste, picks up residents' trash and brings it to the landfill, but the landfill – as in Haines – determines the price. Weekly pickup for a 48-gallon trash can, which holds two to four 13-gallon bags, costs between $26 and $28 per month, depending on where you live.
For residents who fill those trash cans every week, that means a per-bag price of about $1.68 – with curbside pickup service thrown in too. But there's no way to pay less if you generate less trash.
Waste Management Solutions and Alaska Waste are the only services of their kinds in Juneau, so these corporations – like CWS in Haines – don't face competition. Usually, complaints related to utilities that hold monopolies can be filed through the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, but the commission does not regulate landfill services, according to its website.
"Whatever we're doing is still cheaper than going to a municipally-managed system," said Tom Morphet, former member of the borough's Solid Waste Working Group (SWWG), which the Haines Borough Assembly disbanded in June.
Still, Morphet said the borough's waste-disposal patchwork system "is always going to need a certain amount of tinkering to make it tenable."
He thinks the upcoming price hike – and possible pushback from the community -- offers proof that there's still a need for the SWWG. The group's most important function, in Morphet's view, was as a community forum. "Everybody has to deal with garbage, so it's a community issue," Morphet said.
Haines Friends of Recycling chair and former SWWG chair Melissa Aronson said that if people "don't want to pay for dumping waste, the solution is to cut down on your waste. Don't buy stuff you don't need, recycle when you can, repurpose when you can, and compost. You will cut down on how much it will cost you to get rid of stuff."
"A business is a business, and CWS is a for-profit business," Aronson said.
The recycling center, which is a nonprofit, is open 24/7 and accepts white paper, newspaper, flattened corrugated cardboard, tin and aluminum cans and #1 and #2 plastic products, all for free. But other community members worried that people will try to reduce their trash costs in less conscientious ways.
"I assure you that (the increase) will lead to more burning and illegal dumping," said Burl Sheldon, who sat on earlier iterations of the SWWG and helped start Haines Friends of Recycling in the 1990s. "People can avoid the costs by simply dumping trash in the ditch, and they do. It's the Haines Borough's responsibility (to keep this from happening), and they have failed to take that responsibility."
Borough assembly member Debra Schnabel expressed the same concern at the assembly's July 26 meeting. She said she had spoken to Franke, who was "very willing to engage in a conversation with the borough" because, she said, "he also does have his own concerns about the impact that this will have on the community."
Assembly member Cheryl Stickler recommended that the issue be taken up by the Government Affairs and Services Committee (GAS). "Members of the public are expressing concern about the temptation to dump illegally, because everybody is so pressed. But on the other side of that I'd like to see a balance, because CWS is a private company," Stickler said.
The issue will be addressed at the next GAS committee meeting on Tuesday.