Trash Talk Negotiating with Waste Removal Vendors

 Most people don’t think much about their garbage after they toss it down the chute or into a  container for pickup, but the fact is, removing a multifamily community's trash  and recyclables can be a big job, especially in a private development not  served by municipal or city-run sanitation services. Who picks up the refuse? How frequently it is collected? What gets recycled?  These are all concerns that many multifamily residents should consider as  factors in both their bottom line and in their community's core services.  

 Public or Private?

 Imagine living in a community where the trash wasn’t hauled away for a few weeks, and you get a good sense of how important waste  hauling services are to urban and suburban living. While selecting a dependable  waste hauling company is vital to good co-op/condo management, that doesn't  mean hiring an outside contractor can't be negotiated in the best interests of  the community. And as owners of the community, residents hold the cards in  negotiating with service companies who want to do business with them. But the  trick is in knowing how to play those cards.  

 Understanding what a community expects of its waste hauling company versus what  the hauler can provide are good starting points for residents to consider when  delving into the waste management process. Only after evaluating the community’s needs—as well as other factors, such as budget—can residents determine which waste disposal solutions best fit them.  

 In New Jersey, most townships either collect their own garbage and recycling, or  contract the duties to private companies. Paid for by local property taxes,  such contracts tend to reach seven figures, and often span several years.  Still, some communities often have other reasons to hire a private waste  hauler. Even in those communities that receive their town's waste removal  service, some residents opt to hire private haulers to collect garbage that  quickly accumulates from move-outs, renovations, evictions and other  trash-generating instances. Some townships, like Berkeley Heights have held  spring cleanups for residents, which allow them to throw excess trash onto the  curb for a one-day pickup. However, recent budget woes have forced townships to  eliminate such additional services. And in the last ten years, many New Jersey  townships that once ran their own garbage collection have resorted to private  carriers in an effort to reduce taxpayer costs.  

 Several things differentiate public waste removal services from private waste  hauling companies, including services offered and pricing. Township or  county-run garbage trucks come weekly on a set schedule, with changes in the  schedule dependent upon holidays. Private haulers, on the other hand, will pick  up garbage from a community or multifamily building as frequently as the  building’s management negotiate. That could be two or more times a week, depending upon  the building’s needs.  

 Since garbage collection in New Jersey is done largely through local municipal  contracts, a resident or building can't really opt out—everyone has to pay their taxes. But, condos and HOAs are protected by the Municipal Services Act, a state law that requires townships to  either provide garbage collection services to condos, or reimburse them for  services independently acquired (the same goes for other services like snow  removal). “Condo boards should be aware that [the Municipal Services Act] exists, and that  they should be receiving reimbursements for those costs on an annual basis,” said Robert Willis, president of TrashPro, a consulting firm that assists  buildings and municipalities with trash and recycling contracts. If a building  is not getting reimbursed by their township or municipality, the board should  contact their local government.  

 The way counties set up their contracts often makes strict guidelines on how  haulers can dispose of the trash, according to Willis. “Every county in New Jersey has different disposal costs. When you are  calculating a cost of collection services for a condo, a lot of things go into  it. More and more counties are doing what is called “waste flow control,” meaning every bit of trash that's picked up in that county has to go to that  county landfill. Therefore, the hauler is obligated to go to that county  landfill and pay their price, so they're limited as to what pricing they can  give,” says Willis. This dumping expense is called a “tipping fee.”  

 Bidding & Vetting

 As with any maintenance agreement, inking a private waste removal company to  serve a community should follow a specific process. That begins with the  management company publicizing a request for proposals (RFP) for companies  seeking to have a contract to perform waste removal services for the building.  Specifications of the length of the contract and general parameters of it are  provided in an advertisement for haulers, who respond if interested by sending  a proposal outlining what work they will do under the contract and at what  price. Condo boards will rarely negotiate with waste companies directly, and  for good reason. Ideally, property management companies should take the lead  since they often manage other properties. They will be familiar with the  available options already, and may have higher purchasing power if they  negotiate a contract that involves several buildings. “The best way to do it is to talk to other condo units that have haulers. The  management companies have multiple buildings that they're servicing, therefore  they would know best if there's a problem with a company,” says Willis.  

 When responding to an RFP, employees of a contractor will assess the property to  research a bid before submitting the proposal. The waste hauling company will  want to know how many days a week service will be provided to the building, and  if there will be any restraints at the entrance to the building, such as a  locked garage that can only be opened by a security guard. Hours of operation  issues, and other potential problems such as questions regarding overhead wires  or clearance, also will be of interest to a hauler, as will be the question of  how much trash the building generates. In other places, the amount of trash  would be an important factor in a contract, but because townships are required  to reimburse condos at an established rate per household, it's rarely a  sticking point.  

 Board members and other residents of a community should think beyond payment  terms and find out how long the company has been in business, and what its  overall reputation is. Has it had any problems recently, with authorities or  lawsuits? The New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)  provides a list on its website of waste collection companies that have violated  regulations or had service issues. If condo boards are involved with choosing a  company, they should visit the DEP website before entering negotiations with  any waste hauler.  

 It’s also important to check to see that the company’s insurance—be it liability or vehicle insurance—is up to date, as well as its licenses. Haulers in New Jersey must be licensed  by the DEP. Up-to-date registration of vehicles with the proper decals also is  crucial, and an omission in any of the aforementioned areas should be  considered a large red flag. A building or management company should not accept  services from a company that is not properly licensed and insured.  

 Being Green

 Some communities have residents with a high interest in environmental issues,  and these consumers are interested in lowering their carbon footprint. Some  companies, such as the national hauler Waste Management, are now increasingly  using cleaner burning, quieter trucks which run on compressed natural gas.  These trucks run more efficiently, and many residents appreciate them being  used rather than gasoline-fueled trucks, says Bill Plunkett, a spokesman for  national waste removal firm Waste Management, which works with more than a  dozen waste management companies in New Jersey.  

 Recycling has become more sophisticated in New Jersey and a larger part of the  industry in the last ten years. Municipalities are increasingly including more  convenient recycling options for residents. “Single stream” recycling allows residents to make one single pile for recyclables. Newspapers,  aluminum cans, and plastic ware get collected together. A new process separates  the materials by weight at a nearby plant. According to Guy Watson, the bureau  chief of Recycling and Planning for New Jersey's DEP, even though the single stream process requires a little more cost at the back  end, it still runs at a third of the price of solid waste collection.  

 The Municipal Services Act doesn't explicitly require condos to get reimbursed  for recycling services, but since waste haulers are often contracted to do  both, condos should expect to be reimbursed for recyclables as well. But, each  county is different, and how much a county recycles determines whether it's  cost efficient. Watson gave an example that an unnamed town in New Jersey was  negotiating a contract for recycling, and discovered that the company would  charge extra for a recycling service since its residents recycled so little.  

 “If the residents just doubled the amount it recycled, which would actually be  very easy since they recycled so little to begin with, they would in turn save  money on their contract,” says Watson.  

 On the other end of the spectrum, some towns like New Brunswick will withhold  reimbursements if your building doesn't recycle enough. “A town can say, 'if your recycling numbers are not at least equal to the town as  a whole, we won't reimburse you.' In New Brunswick, the recycling coordinator  signs off on some form of approval before the business administrator signs the  [reimbursement] check,” says Watson.  

 Trash and recycling collection for condos are much more cost effective than  single family homes. Instead of starting and stopping at every house on the  street, trucks can pull up to the building's garage and load trash from just a  couple large containers. Since it's shorter and simpler, waste haulers save gas  and labor costs. That said, Watson has heard of issues from condo residents.  The main issue, he says, is whether a building can provide enough storage for  recyclables. “If the site manager or owner addresses that issue of storage, whether that means  providing more storage space outside, if you get the space do it. Maybe the  frequency of the collection of recyclables is not frequent enough if you don't  have the storage containers. From the manger's standpoint, look at that area.  Are you making it as convenient as possible for residents to store recycling?”  

 On top of recycling, a new trend in New Jersey waste collection is “organic separation,” whereby haulers collect food waste and other biodegradable material separately.  So far, only Princeton has adopted the practice, but it has already lowered the  town's garbage bill because haulers have less garbage to dump in county  landfills, which rack up those hefty tipping fees. Instead the organic waste is  shipped to a composting facility in Delaware. Despite the transportation cost,  it's still cheaper. “Organic separation is really in its nascent stages at this point. But it's going  to spread. One thing that will make it spread is when we can get commercial  composting facilities in New Jersey. But, it's still cheaper than the  equivalent garbage service,” says Watson.  

 Whether your building or association opts to use a waste hauling company,  individual disposal units, or even composting, the key is to remember that  there are multiple options for dealing with your community's waste. Hiring a  waste removal company is just like hiring any service professional; there's  some legwork involved in finding the best fit, and in establishing and  maintaining a good working relationship. Choosing the right company or  technology can both save money and reduce environmental stress but it's up to  your board and management to research the possibilities and make the best  choice for your community's needs.                              

 Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New  Jersey Cooperator. Editorial Assistant Tom Lisi contributed to this article.

 

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