The Shocking Discovery I Made When I Actually Read My Garbage Bill

by Travis Pizel · 16 comments

In early 2012, my garbage company offered me a deal: commit to them for two years, and in return, they wouldn’t raise my rates.

Prices are always increasing, so I thought it would be smart to agree.

I found my latest garbage bill in the mailbox this week, and it was higher than I remembered. In fact, it seemed like my bill had been steadily increasing over the past two years. I decided it was time to take a closer look.

They send the bill every three months, and the current bill was for about $140. When I looked at the bill’s breakdown, one thing caught my eye: my refuse and recycling service only accounted for $76 of the total.

Almost 50% of my bill was comprised of taxes and fees.

A Breakdown of My Garbage Bill

Here’s what I was charged:

  • City and county environmental charge: $26
  • State tax: $7.50
  • Administrative fees: $4
  • Fuel charge: $17
  • Environmental charge: $9.50

The first two fees are imposed by the government. But the last three charges — which account for 22% of the total — seem to me like my garbage company sandbagging my bill.

Here’s what I mean:

Administrative fee: I interpret this as a fee for the company’s billing, payroll, and customer support — and I’m confused as to why this wouldn’t be part of their base service fees.

Fuel charge: I remember when they added this charge. Fuel prices were skyrocketing, and instead of raising their prices, they added an extra fee. Gas prices fluctuate, but right now they’re nowhere near their all-time high. The garbage company’s website actually has a table explaining how they calculate the fuel charge, and I was shocked to learn that gas would have to fall all the way to 95 cents a gallon to eliminate the fuel charge entirely. (When was the last time gasoline was 95 cents a gallon?!)

Environmental charge: Their website describes this charge as a way to “cover our costs and expenses to operate our collection, transfer, landfill, recycling, and waste-to-energy operations.” Doesn’t that sound basically like the cost to run their company?

The bottom line: Something stinks about my garbage bill.

While the base rate of service has technically stayed the same, I believe my garbage company has been adding and increasing new fees to keep their profitability where they want it. Since my two year agreement is over, I think it’s time to start looking for an alternative.

Have you taken a close look at the charges on your garbage bill? Do you understand them all?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • AND they never reverse the fuel surcharges. If they put them in place as gas went above (just as an example) $3.00 – what sense does it make that gas prices need to drop to under $1 a gallon for there to be no surcharge? it’s just another fee to hike profits….thanks for reading!

  • Rachel Coburn says:

    I remember reading that in some areas around the country, folk on a single block just go in together on a dumpster at the end of dead end street or cul-de-sac. Depending on how dense your neighborhood is, that might save everyone on the block some cash.
    These fuel surcharges are not just an issue in garbage pickup; I’ve seen them on everything from cabs to grocery delivery services here in Boston.
    I wouldn’t feel too bad about paying the surcharge except that these services seem to do nothing to lower their costs! Here in the Boston area, the city fought to require new cabs to be eco-friendly; instead the cab companies went to court to have the rule throw out, then had the gall to demand a fuel surcharge on fares. While this doesn’t affect me that much, I live and work in an area with a lot of elderly folks who need to get to appointments.

  • AJ says:

    Julie,

    That’s essentially what I do. Only difference is there is a free landfill day once a month. If I dropped off another day it would be a min $15 for the first 200#.

    Yes, I recycle all I can and compost. It works for me.

  • Julie says:

    When we bought our house two years ago, we looked at the cost of garbage pick up. It was about $35 or $40 a month. So, we decided to try out just bringing our own garbage to the dump and paying by the bag ($1 for a small bag, $2 for a big bag (of which we can fit three small bags). We recycle ALOT (free at the dump) and also compost our food scraps. It’s not a big deal to go to the dump, and we only have to go about every two weeks. This way we average $10-15 a month for garbage.

    • Sounds like you’ve got a good system that saves you some money, Julie! I *think* that our dump charges $40 for a pickup truck full…not sure if they have a payscale for smaller loads or not – something to check into!

  • David says:

    The fuel charge is on my bill too. This started in 2008 when fuel costs SPIKED and took down our economy. I have complained to the company and filed a complaint with the BBB. It is still on the bill, and it is unethical. Any ideas on how we get this fixed? We need a wide net cast because they are just ripping us off. Unfortunately, the company in with bought every other company in my area, so different service is not an option, unless I use the lady with the pickup truck and put bags of trash outside for the animals to rip apart.

    I think unfair practices need a way to be made aware of and customers need somewhere to complain and be heard. The BBB did not help

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I don’t know how we can fix it, David….it’s just crazy – if they’re going to impose a new fee when fuel prices go up, one would think they should go away when prices come down (gas just went below $3 a gallon in my city for the first time in…..I don’t know how long).

  • AJ says:

    They get you no matter what. Sounds like they have good lawyers to help the marketing dept parse words.

    If you are open to other ideas, the one that works for me us taking the trash to the landfill myself. Some states/communities have free anytime or certain days. I started it in ’08 thinking “I’ll just try this for a while and see if it works out.” Needless to say, haven’t paid for trash since

    • Travis Pizel says:

      That’s something to look into, AJ. I don’t think we have free landfill dropoff, but I wonder if it would be cheaper. Thanks for the tip, maybe I’ll write a followup post on my cost comparisons and what I went with!

  • Money Beagle says:

    When we moved in, we had to contract our own garbage bill and it was around $85 for every three months. Shortly thereafter, the city contracted with a hauler and it dropped it down to about $40 per quarter. It slowly rose to about $50 (as they had a lot of the same type of things like the fuel increases), but when the renewal came up, the city threatened to shop it around, and the bill is now back to $45 and the fuel price is locked in unless gas goes up past $4.50 or something like that.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      That’s an unbelievably low price per quarter, Money Beagle…..I pay that much EACH MONTH!!! We have several companies in town, one would think that the competition would keep prices down!

  • Josh@BillCutterz says:

    That’s ridiculous! It blows my mind how much prices really have risen over the past few years. We have had some recent customers with garbage bills in excess of $50 a month. It’s crazy to think that some people pay less for their internet then their garbage. We have found that reducing the size of your trash can is the best way to save money on your garbage bill. I would suggest giving your garbage provider a call to see what they can do, sometimes they will offer a credit to help reduce the cost temporarily.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Good idea, Josh – I’ve noticed that ever since we’ve become more mindful of our spending, our garbage volume has gone down and we could probably downsize our container. Our recycling container is certainly way to big. I’ll be doing some comparisons not only with downsizing, but also moving do a different provider. Thanks for the tip!

  • Our garbage bill is included with our municipal taxes. I’m a big fan of just including costs of business in with the price of services though.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Yeah, all these taxes and fees are just a bunch of smoke and mirrors by my garbage company. When I go eat at a restaurant, there’s no “server delivery fee,” and “preparation fee” and “electricity fee” because the cost of energy has gone up. It’s almost laughable. Thanks for reading!

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