St. Louis' Trash Service Is a Damn Dumpster Fire


An actual photo of a St. Louis alley, taken by 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer. - CARA SPENCER
  • An actual photo of a St. Louis alley, taken by 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer.

St. Louis' trash service is garbage.

Anyone who has peered down any given alley in the city and spied the rolling tides of overflowing refuse therein already knows that, but what you may not have known is the face-palmingly simple reason why: We don't have enough trash trucks to cover our routes.

According to a report by the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis has 55 trash routes to run each day, but only has 40 to 45 working trucks in service most days. It doesn't take a rocket mathecist to figure out that ain't gonna work.

Some would say that the mountains of garage strewn everywhere are just part of the city's appeal, and that drowning in one's own refuse is St. Louis as hell, and that why would we want to do anything about our city's charming lack-of-trucks-lots-of-trash quirk anyway? Just kidding, no one would ever say any of that. This one is so basic it seems unbelievable that it requires discussion.

“When you don’t have enough trucks, you don’t have the ability to cover all those routes,” Streets Director Jamie Wilson tells the Post-Dispatch succinctly. Yep, makes sense.

Some of the trucks in the city's current fleet are eighteen years old, with ten years being the average, the paper reports. The very nature of their job involves a lot of wear, what with schlepping literal tons of garbage all over town and all.

“There are 140,000 tons of solid waste collected per year, and the wear and tear on the hydraulics of the trucks is inherent with the job they are doing," Wilson tells the daily. "These are $250,000 vehicles. It’s a large amount of money for a big job.”

The Board of Aldermen voted to increase trash fees a year ago from $11 to $14 a month. That will bring in some $3.5 million more per year for service, with half that money intended to go to buying new trucks. That money resulted in the city getting thirteen new trucks last fiscal year, with a plan to acquire 76 in total over ten years.

But so far it's just not enough. Even Mayor Lyda Krewson admits as much, telling the Post-Dispatch in April, "The city is not as clean as it could be." (Mayoral understatement alert!)

According to 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, the issue falls squarely on the shoulders of the mayor — although she's careful to acknowledge that it's not the current mayor who got us into this jam. She says the inadequate trash service had been a failure on the part of the past administration for years, but that Krewson inherited a mess that only her office can fix.

"We found $106 MILLION in the general budget 2 years ago for the Scottrade Center, but we didn't find a single dime to replace garbage trucks or lawn mowers which were all past their average lifespan nationwide," Spencer writes in a Facebook post. "Moving forward, the City needs to focus on providing basic city services — reliably — in every department.

"Citizens don't run these departments," she adds. "The Board of Aldermen doesn't run these departments. They are all under the Mayor's Office."

Maybe those trash trucks should try skipping service at that office for a few weeks. If a mountain of garbage large enough to block out the sun at City Hall isn't enough to correct the issue, at least it will be appropriately representative of the city.

  • Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.