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Farewell by Susan Young, Mpls’ ‘Trash Lady,’ who “Bridged” to citizens

Editor’s Note Regarding Susan Young “First Class Lady” Open Letter:

The recent dismissal of Susan Young as Head of the Department of Solid Waste and Recycling has met with overwhelming disbelief, disapproval, and anger by scores of people. Her professional abilities have spoken for themselves only to be exceeded by her unique abilities to simultaneously relate public policy and service to the public for whom she has worked in a personable, nonbureaucratic manner. Her astute professionalism and sincere ethics are obvious here in her own words about her dismissal from a position where her performance has gotten rave reviews from tax payers but apparently not from the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for her appointment. Many open letters via e-democracy in support of Young and in opposition to her dismissal have been far too numerous to reprint here. Suffice it to say they were widespread and unanimous as they all poignantly gave witness to her explicit effectiveness and diplomatic skills that combine to make her a “first Class ‘Lady’”.

Greetings:

THANK YOU for the opportunity to participate in this forum, for the ideas that are exchanged and the wisdom I have gained. This is truly democracy at its best, and I have appreciated every post and comment.

I’m going to give my last post as the Minneapolis Trash Lady on a recycling topic. (yup, go figure!)

First, the City Council sets policy; staff may recommend, but the Council sets policy, including contracts. Over the years, there have been many topics for which SW & R staff had a recommendation different than the policy that was later set. I describe the policy process as a pie. There are many slices to the pie, and for each topic the relative size of the slices changes. The slices include budget and tax implications, staff recommendations, constituent input, lobbyist input, personal knowledge, relationship concerns (between elected officials and between various government units), and a few slices that I’m not thinking of right now. Bottom line: staff recommendations are not always final policy, nor should they be. Second, the City has a contract with Allied Recycling to process and market the City’s recyclables. For the duration of the contract, the City agreed to deliver our recyclables a certain way; in return Allied pays the City for those recyclables. The contract was the result of an RFP (Request for Proposals) that requested prices from companies if the City delivered recyclables in a multi-sort system, a single sort system or a dual stream system. The best deal for the city, by far, was the multi-sort system. This contract ends in May of 2012; it is the plan to send out a new RFP in November or December of 2011 to determine what processing and marketing options and prices will be available for the next contract. As an example, for the single sort pilot (see below) the processing cost is $70/ton and no revenues will be returned to the City; our current average for the multi-sort system is just over $35/ton, and we received more than $1.2 million in FY 2010 (converts to about $1.20 per dwelling unit/month). Hopefully, the RFP will bring more competitive prices for the various kinds of sorting systems. Minneapolis is VERY fortunate that we have three significant recyclables processors located in the City; I know of no other city with this advantage.

Third, there are more than price considerations that should go into the next contract decision. Right now there are three pilot programs going on in Minneapolis that will provide data for participation, tonnage, contamination and collection expense considerations. If you look at the SCORE report at the PCA, you’ll find that St. Paul’s dual stream program and Minneapolis’ multi-stream program collect just about the same tonnage per household. Two of the pilots are testing whether Minneapolis customers will contribute lots more recyclables under a dual stream or single stream method, the third pilot is testing if better enforcement of our existing rebate will increase tonnage. The pilots will also test if collection costs can decrease with the various collection systems (alleys and on-street parking boulevard don’t allow the fully automated systems that save money in the suburbs), and what kinds of containers (carts, bins, etc) Minneapolis customers prefer. Garbage and recycling sorts are being done to determine contamination rates in the pilots, and recovery from the garbage stream of the various constitutes. This data will, I’m sure, be part of the staff recommendation that will accompany the analysis of the RFP information. There should also be sustainability considerations in the final decision, but these are difficult to obtain hard data on. For instance, it requires a tremendous amount of electrical energy to run conveyor belts, cyclone air sorting systems, “puffer” sorting systems that are controlled by optical scanners and the other processes required to sort comingled recyclables. Even with these sorting systems, recyclables are
not as clean or marketable from a comingled system as a multi-sort system (reference locally: RockTenn). If sustainability is a significant factor in a recycling system determination, using human energy (low green house gas) instead of electrical energy to sort recyclables, and having a more reusable product would favor multi-sort systems. On the other hand, I understand that convenience now trumps sustainability most days, so that also needs to be factored into a decision.

Finally, I’m sorry, but there won’t be any juicy scandals discovered after I leave. My biases, and the reason that I was originally hired in Minneapolis, include cost-effective collection, processing and disposal systems, systemic sustainability, and outstanding customer service. I understand that times change. Minneapolis will have fresh eyes and ideas in Solid Waste and Recycling Services, and I am appreciative of the time that I had here to be the Minneapolis Trash Lady. When I came, everything went into the back of the garbage packer; now we have a system that separately handles garbage, yard wastes, recyclables, metal goods and even electronics. Community gardens receive finished compost, and the organics pilot programs will guide city-wide implementation as soon as the State develops rules and processing facilities for organics and yard wastes can be built. The Clean City programs have helped Minneapolis be ranked as the 5th Cleanest City in the World, and involve thousands of Minneapolis citizens and business persons. I am very proud to say that I have worked for the residents of the City of Minneapolis. It’s been a privilege that I do not take lightly. Thank you!

Susan Young, Minneapolis North High Polar Parent, future customer and constituent Syoung5236@gmail.com

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