CHAMPAIGN — Thinking of switching your garbage service? You could be in for a surprise exit bill.
Lance McGrew of Champaign discontinued trash pick-up recently with Republic Services and switched to a different company to lower his monthly rates, he said. But after he paid his final bill to Republic Services, the company sent him an additional bill to come pick up its receptacles.
The extra bill was for $93 — based on the company's charges of $33 each for pickup of a toter and a recycling container — plus administrative and fuel/environmental recovery fees.
"For me, it was, like, you've got to be kidding. Really?" McGrew said.
McGrew disputed the bill, partly on the fact that he didn't actually have one of the company's recycling bins, and managed to whittle the bill down to about $50 for the garbage container pickup and reduced fuel/environmental recovery fees.
Still, he wasn't happy about paying $50 for someone to pick up an empty garbage can.
"That's just to pick up their property," McGrew said.
Jennifer Eldridge, a spokeswoman for Phoenix-based Republic Services, said Champaign customers will find mention of those fees in the contracts they sign, "and that's consistent with other markets as well."
The company incurs costs not just to retrieve its property but to pay its drivers and keep them trained and to maintain safe, reliable trucks on the roads, she said.
According to the company's website, the fuel recovery fee is adjusted monthly based on the cost of fuel. The environmental fee is applied at 15 percent of the invoice, excluding taxes. And the $5.25 administrative charge per invoice covers the cost of billing, payment processing and account maintenance.
PDC/Area Companies also imposes a fuel surcharge based on current fuel costs per gallon in some of its markets, though not in Champaign. That company also has an administrative fee, but offers to drop that one for customers who switch to paperless billing.
Matt Coulter, vice president of PDC/Area Companies, said he wouldn't blame Republic Services for charging to come pick up its containers.
Those rolling containers cost about $70 apiece, he said, and it costs money to come pick them up with a truck averaging about 3 miles per gallon of fuel.
"That's not free," he said.
Another cost factor for garbage pickup services is the currently poor market for recyclables, Coulter said. His company and others have asked the city of Champaign to permit a reduction in recycling pickups from once-a-week to every other week, he said.
City code currently requires a weekly recycling pick-up, and the city council hasn't expressed an interest in changing that, according to Kris Koester, spokesman for Champaign's public works department.
The volume of recycled materials being picked up in Champaign has increased by 10 percent a year, and the potential impact on that would have to be studied if a change in the pickup schedule is considered, he said.
For customers interested in lowering their trash pickup costs, it may pay to shop around.
Some garbage haulers, for example, have an all-inclusive rate. Some help customers make comparisons more easily by posting all their rates on their websites. Some offer a savings if customers use their own garbage cans, especially those customers who don't generate a lot of garbage.
ABC Sanitary Hauling & Recycling, for example, offers service for under $20 a month for customers who can live with once-a-week pick-up and provide their own 32-gallon garbage can.
Rates go up by volume and whether you provide your own cans. But there aren't any extra fees, according to ABC.
Illini Recycling, McGrew's new garbage pick-up service, has a similar deal. Plus, it offers a senior discount and an all-inclusive $23 per-month rate using a company toter.
"No hidden fees," its website proclaims.
Cain Kiser, a co-owner of Illini Recycling, contended offering one straightforward rate matters to many of his customers who said that was the reason they switched.
And if someone discontinues service, charging to come pick up the container isn't something he'll do, he said.
"That's just the cost of doing business," Kiser said.
His advice is to become an educated consumer and ask trash haulers questions about all their charges and service before signing up.
Most companies will provide a straight answer, he said, "but they're hoping you're not going to ask."
Some companies may also offer to lower rates if you threaten to switch, and that's also not for him, Kiser said.
"We don't play the pricing game with different individuals," he said.
Coulter advised also paying attention to service.
"Our opinion is it's all about service. If you don't have good service, nobody's going to stay with you," he said. "Anybody can beat you on price."