Prices Now Higher at the South Austin Dump

I made a trip to the south Austin dump this weekend. Aside from my own personal small dump load that I had from my recent garage cleanup, I had a small amount of debris that I had tossed into the back of my truck from one of my rental properties. Just some scrap lumber and a piece of sheetrock. So it was time for a trip to one of my favorite destinations, the dump in South Austin.

When I arrived, I learned unfortunately that the minimum dump fee for a pickup truck is now $35, and the “unsecured load” penalty is now $20. That means, if you toss a few things in your truck and take them to the dump, and you don’t have a tarp handy with tie-downs (even if the items are heavy items that could not blow out) to cover/secure your load, you’re looking at a minimum $55 disposal fee, even for just one broken kitchen sink (if it’s uncovered). Ouch. If memory serves me, it wasn’t that long ago that I paid about $9-$12 for a dump load. The unsecured load fee was previously $5, so $20 represents a 400% increase in that fee. What has the world come to when it costs this much to get rid of a few things?

Since I have a Commercial Account at the dump, I told the attendant I would just drive up on the scale (which use to be cheaper). She informed me that the minimum commercial load is now $35/ton with a 2 ton minimum, so minimum $70 on the scales plus the unsecured load fine = $90. This, to dispose of a piece of sheetrock, about 10 pieces of scrap lumber, and some misc household stuff. All totaled, about 1/4 of a pickup truck load. I elected to pay the civilian price.

Those of us who manage rental properties and who make regular repairs to properties are going to feel this price sting as our vendors, who regularly dispose of broken things and other stuff, are going to have to raise prices to us. In the move-out letter I send all tenants, I expressly warn against leaving junk piled at the street or left-over stuff in the garage, and inform them there will be a haul-off fee if they do that. Most tenants do in fact leave some stuff to haul off anyway, and then complain about the charge. Now that fee will be even higher and I need to edit my move-out letter to reflect that, and the tenants will be even madder when they see the charge, which increases my chances of getting sued over deposit refunds. Swell.

But, as our do-gooder government, which caused these fee hikes through new regulations and fee increases (the politically expedient way of raising taxes without calling it a tax increase), fails to understand, another result of these ridiculous fees will be a huge increase in illegal dumping and the further financial squeezing of the average middle class citizen.

I own some vacant lots and have had trash and junk dumped on them. Typically it’s a small pile of construction debris, brush or tires. Sometimes junk furniture or trash. People dump this stuff because they can’t afford to go to the dump, or they’re too lazy to properly dispose of the stuff. Tires have an expensive “$7 recycling fee” associated with them, so ever since that law was passed many years ago, the instance of old tires being dumped had already increased. Now the problem of illegal dumping will most certain increase, as will the resultant pollution. Way to go big brother.

This is exactly the sort of regressive tax that meddling government do-gooders claim to be against, but which they in fact impose in the name of environmental progress. From where do they think the stuff brought to the dump comes? It ain’t from our upper end folks driving out to the dump in an Escalade to dispose of broken china and worn out pool furniture. I haven’t seen any businessmen smudging their tie out there lately as they toss a broken Herman Miller out the back of a trailer.

No, this stuff comes from small contractors and middle class home owners and renters who just need to get rid of ordinary household junk and construction debris. Joe Sixpack can probably handle $12-$25 in dump fees for the annual spring cleaning load, but $55 is going to be sticker shock. And the fly-by-night contractors that the price-point-obsessed American consumer hires to redo the bathroom or rebuild a fence are now going to view dump fee avoidance as an easy cost-cutting measure when things are tight. Your remodel debris may end up on the back of someone’s vacant lot, dumped there illegally.

The HVAC industry has already created an additional One Million service calls a year (my unscientific estimate), plus additional landfill with all of the junk HVAC systems that crap out after 12 to 24 months and have to be replaced. Not to mention the equally disposable appliances and other stuff that breaks down due to engineered obsolescence and expensive computer chips. Oh, but those items are “environmentally friendly” or “green” because they have a higher SEER rating, or whatever.

What’s the SEER rating or Carbon Footprint of me replacing a A/C condenser unit 2 times in a 5 year span on a 5 year old property property because the original unit crapped out at 18 months and the replacement unit at two years? What’s the true economic benefit of that compared to the old, “environmentally unfriendly” units that use to last 15 or 20 years and remain serviceable even beyond that if well cared for? And this newer junk costs 3x what the old stuff did.

I’m dubious of any real environmental benefit being realized by all these extra fees and expenses in the name of “going green”. All I see from my perspective is massive waste as major components of our homes have become non-durable consumables instead of long-lasting major mechanical components. It’s putting a financial hurt on the the average American that this junk wears out regularly in less than 2 years. I just spent $300+ replacing a computer control card in a less than two year old range. That’s ridiculous. Absolutely stupid. I’m on the second 50 gal water heater in my two year old home because the original went out and was replaced under warranty. It was a fancy new age water heater that was cheaper to replace than to fix, even at just over a year old. These appliances can be designed and made to last longer, as they once did, and to be cheaper to repair, as they once were.

Is it helping the environment that Granny Johnson must now shell out $1,800 for a condensing unit that could have been replaced for $650 eight years ago? She’ll probably leave it broke and buy a fan and die of heat stroke before she forks out 3 month’s worth of Social Security checks to fix her A/C system.

Or is Joe Sixpack, humping it at his state government job, better off now that his broken water heater will cost $900-$1,200 to replace and bring up to “code”, when I could have swapped it out turnkey for $350 six years ago, or repaired the simple older unit for $75?

And is the small handyman going to be able to perform your honey do list of repairs for $250 now that his dump fees have increased 400%? Where do you think your old sinks and countertops will end up if you take the cheaper bid that doesn’t factor in full disposal costs? Next thing you know, the government will be taxing his handyman work truck because it only gets 12 mpg, and that cost will be passed on to Granny Johnson as well.

With all of the increased living and repair expenses, fees and expensive “green” stuff we’re being sold nowadays, what we’re really being sold is a crap sandwich disguised as “earth friendly” policy. Don’t be fooled. You’re being ripped off, sold out, overtaxed and provided with worthless junk that’s supposed to be “greener”.

As Neil Young put it, “you pay for this and they give you that”.

And so now I no longer enjoy my trips to the dump as much as I once did, mainly because I don’t like being ripped off. I talked to one of my contractors about this and he says he started driving out to the dump in Hutto unless he has a full 2 ton load to dump, in which case he’ll still go down south. I haven’t been to the dump in Hutto, but if there is good BBQ somewhere nearby out there, and they’re not going to rip me off on a small load, it might be worth a drive out next time.

But, sadly, that blue collar refuse of the everyman, the trip to the dump, has now too been infected and polluted by the big hand of government, squeezing the small guy and calling it “green” initiative, but really truley just raising taxes in a back door sort of way on regular people.

23 thoughts on “Prices Now Higher at the South Austin Dump”

  1. I’m with you on the disposable quality of so many modern manufactured products but I think you’re morphing the green movement and cheaply made products into the same thing. I would argue that nearly all new products are being made with less concern for quality and durability and more concern for low price points. Some of those new products are also “green”

    I do not believe the push to find more environmentally sound products created or is even involved in the larger general trend of cheaply made products. I would argue that main impetus behind flimsier products is in fact the ever growing demand for cheaper goods, the same kind of pressure that leads someone to complain about increasing prices at the dump.

  2. Hi Chris,

    You have a good point. I expect the reason we can’t purchase a good, commercial quality weed eater, for example, at Home Depot is because consumers won’t buy them.

    But the stuff I’m talking about, appliances and A/C systems, can in fact be produced at higher quality and lower cost than they were before the freon changes and minimum SEER requirements went into effect. Talk to the owner of any HVAC company, or any plumber, about the quality of equipment today versus just 8 years ago.

    Same with automobiles, most of which went to a computerized system in 1999, which makes them more expensive to work on and less reliable.


  3. I hear you, but you shouldn’t be blaming the authorities for this. That unsecured load fee helps offset the public cost of clearing the roadways of dangerous construction garbage. I frequently see contractors and repairmen trolling the dumpsters along busy thoroughfares for free places to dump their construction waste. I used to manage an office on I-35 and we had builders’ debris thrown into our dumpster almost every weekend. Some of the less-traveled areas of SE Travis and Bastrop Counties have hectares of the stuff illegally dumped on public and private land. This is an age-old problem, some small contractors tend to think they’re exempt from permits and regulations by virtue of their low profiles.

  4. Steve,
    Homedepot has a product called the bagster, collapsible dumpster for 20 bucks (I think) with pickup from waste management,

    Also, you can get some commercial quality trimmers at homedepot, they do sell two models of the echo straight shaft trimmers.


  5. In response to the anonymous above:
    Bagster is part of service offering from Waste Management whose commercials are, at best, vague, if not misleading. While I have not discounted the potential of the service for some clients of mine, I do not thing this offering will last very long. I wrote a blog about it on Active Rain a few weeks back.

    Sure, the bag is $30 at Home Depot. And you can get a coupon from the site. But if you check with Waste Management regarding a pickup, you find out the real charges. To have them come to the house I was working on in 78701, it was $130 pick up, taxes, etc. $160 is a big difference from $30. Still cheaper than a dumpster, but you only get a 9 cubic foot bag to fill.

    And lastly, Waste Management won’t take the Bagster if it is too far from the street, too full, or possibly contains items they are not able to dispose of…

    As always, Caveat Emptor.

  6. Hi Pat,

    > That unsecured load fee helps offset the public cost of clearing the roadways of dangerous construction garbage.

    It probably costs more to clear said garbage, and for cleaning up public lands that are dumped on than it would cost to forgo the $20 load fee and have less illegal dumping as a result.

    My main point is that it’s a new tax, but it’s not called that, and it disproportionately affects lower and middle class people, and will result in more illegal dumping than before. So it accomplishes nothing beneficial other than to allow our politicians to say they “didn’t raise taxes”.

    Sorry I’m on a bit of a rant about this, but it’s just dumb to jack up the dump fees when they account for so little of the gross revenue of the dump operators. The extra $20 from Joe Sixpack, in addition to a $35 minimum dump charge is a drop in the bucket compared to the commercial revenue. Plus most of the stuff brought in by home owners is recycled and even resold at the flea market out there. Most of the load I took the other day was tossed aside and not in the landfill.


  7. Not to echo Chris too much, but the real pressure driving the inferior build of our products is not the government or “green” movement, but big box discounters, primarily Walmart. Walmart demands that its suppliers meet a certain price point, and the supplier is left with two choices: Reduce the quality of the product’s materials and manufacturing (in China, of course), or forgo selling your product to the biggest retailer in the world. The downward trending of durability in manufactured goods began long before the nascent “green” movement of the mid 2000s.

  8. Steve, I found the tone of this post very off-putting. It almost seems as if you’re trying to have it both ways – first complaining about a fee intended to reduce garbage that clearly functions as an incentive, and then complaining that the ‘greenies’ don’t understand incentives.

    While there’s an argument to be made about unintended consequences (additional illegal dumping), it’s clear that the increased dump fees are, in fact, an incentive – an incentive to generate less garbage. It works on some of us – it doesn’t work on others – and again, you can make the unintended consequences argument as well, but it’s a better environmental solution than simple command/control because it still allows people to throw away junk – it doesn’t force people to not throw it away at all.

  9. The dump in Hutto is definitely cheaper (or at least it was last time I was there) than the old rates at the South Austin dump. Plus, you have the added enjoyment of driving directly in to the landfill to unload your junk. No sorting like you have to do at the South Austin dump (but the bad news is that nothing is pulled out to be recycled as at S. Austin). The fun part of the experience comes when you get to watch people with 2WD trucks and bald tires, pulling a trailer, try to gain traction in the dirt to make the climb out!

    My favorite dump experience, though, came when I was living in VA, remodeling an 80 year old row house. Since I was doing the work myself on weekends, renting a dumpster was not a good option. So it was off to the dump almost every weekend, where the fees were…. $0! Drive right up, show that you were a local (therefore tax-paying) resident, and in you went!

  10. Maybe raising the fees is a good thing. This can help people to understand that not everything has to end up in the landfill. There are alternatives like recycling and composting that can reduce the amount of waste that goes in people’s garbage cans and eventually to the dump.

  11. > the increased dump fees are, in fact, an incentive – an incentive to generate less garbage

    Hi M1ek, I just don’t think it’s an effective incentive. In fact, if reduction of illegal dumping is the intent, I wonder what would happen if dump fees were eliminated completely for small loads? The questions would be whether or not subsidizing dump fees for small loads would cost the government less than the current cleanup costs. Or, put another way, would the reduction in cleanup costs of illegal dumping exceed the cost of allowing free dumping?

    I don’t know the answer, but like all taxes, the higher they are, the more people say “no thanks” and become willing to cut corners and look for cheaper alternatives. Was it Connecticut that some years ago imposed a huge luxury tax for boats which resulted in putting the boat dealers out of business because people just started going to the next state to buy boats?

    And are the high dump fee similarly benefiting cheaper dumps like Hutto? In fact, that is the case as we’ve heard.


  12. Steve, the idea that raising fees incents illegal dumping but can’t possibly incent less waste overall seems unlikely to be true. In fact, I downgraded our trash can to the smallest size a while back to save just a few bucks a month.

    BOTH illegal dumping AND less dumping, in other words, ARE “cheaper alternatives”. The fact that you only consider the first one to be an alternative is perhaps a problem with the suburban mindset.

  13. I should clarify after reading your comment – you seem to think that I believe that the behavior the city is trying to incent is less illegal dumping. That’s clearly not the case; they’re clearly trying to incent less dumping overall.

  14. M1EK,

    I’d be really surprised if the city is thinking about incenting any type of behavior with the fee increase.

    The city is thinking purely about increasing revenue, and doing so in ways that raises the ire of the smallest and/or least vocal portions of the population. What portion of Austinites regularly visit the dump? Maybe 5%?

    There will be plenty of indirect effects, as Steve outlined, between likely increases in illegal dumping, and increased prices to consumers from a variety of trades-people. But those consumers are not going to associate the fact that their bathroom remodel is $100 more expensive with a fee increase at the dump. Raise the sales, gas, property or a variety of other taxes/fees that are more visible and directly felt by a wider cross-section of the population, and the city would encounter more opposition.

    Just my two cents worth…


  15. M1ek,

    TH outlined where I’m coming from very well.

    I think more and more tax increases are being stuffed into “use fees”. This is because politicians are afriad of the knee jerk negative reaction most of us have toward pure tax increases. So instead, we get 1,000 “bee stings”, none of which kill us, but which collectively represent huge increases in the amount of money that flows away from us and to the government.

    And the people most allergic to these financial “bee stings”, those least able to absorb them, are the ones who disproportionately pay the most.

    Check your utility bills, phone bills, auto renewal, inspection sticker fees, etc. Meanwhile, our 20+ year old state gas tax remains at $0.18, which is woefully inadequate given current needs, but which can’t be raised because it would be deemed a “tax increase” whereas these other costs of living are somehow absorbed as something different than a tax increase.

    And, specifically, making it cost $35 minimum, or $55 for an “unsecured load” is nothing more than a pure money grab by the state in lieu of a tax increase.


  16. TH, in fact, I know you’re wrong; the city is, in fact, trying to incent less dumping through both tiered garbage fees and higher disposal fees. (The higher costs they incurred through single-stream recycling, allowing the tiered garbage thing to even function, makes it a wash for the city or even a small loss overall).

    Steve, the gas tax is a real good example, although not in the way you think. It subsidizes unhealthy behavior today – basically functions as a large subsidy from urban drivers to suburban drivers (and even, ironically, from non-drivers to suburban drivers). I cover this a lot in my blog; here’s one example:

  17. I should have added to the above: I know what the city’s goal was because I’ve been paying real close attention to the recycling rules in particular, because my rental property is in a condominium building with no recycling pickup. I also am facebook friends with the guy who runs the SWAC. Whether or not you think it will WORK is irrelevant – the city is, in fact, trying to reduce overall waste with these initiatives (i.e. their intentions, at least, are good).

  18. > the city is, in fact, trying to reduce overall waste with these initiatives

    So, if I understand you, you’re saying that higher landfill fees are intended to discourage use of the landfill. That’s basically what I’m saying too.

    Where we disagree is that I think the higher fees will result in more illegal dumping, higher costs for services that require disposal, and I’m peeved that this seems to be the newest way to raise taxes.

    You think (or think the city thinks) that higher dump fees will result in the production of less garbage by people who don’t want to pay higher dump fees.

    I’m trying to understand your point of view. Do I have it right?



  19. Steve, the point is that you at times have claimed the city’s just trying to raise taxes – they’re clearly not. Their intention is for there to be less dumping overall; whether you think this approach will be effective is a matter of opinion.

    And, yes, higher dump fees will result in some decrease in the amount of dumpable stuff. This is econ 101. It will also, guaranteed, result in some increase in the amount of illegal dumping. Sure. The right thing to do is figure out whether the amount of illegal dumping it will encourage is too much to live with compared to the decrease in total dumping seen.

  20. M1ek,

    Thanks. I think I mixed two topics, not really intending to do so at the outset, but I guess that’s how rants go.

    1) Higher dump fees will increase illegal dumping, I believe. Econ 101, as you say. I don’t think a relationship exists between the creation of trash/junk and the cost of disposing of it at the dump. Heck, we can’t even get Americans to think of the consequences of drinking, or of over-eating. I doubt a higher dump fee will curtail the purchasing over-packaged goods or unneeded junk to avoid spring cleaning dump runs.

    2) As somewhat of a tangent, I pointed out that “fees” are becoming the new way to tax people when more government revenue is needed. This has been know and written about much in recent years, though still somewhat under the radar of the average voter.

    I really appreciate your insights.


  21. Unfortunately……..this is the preferred method in Austin. This is due to the fact that the city of Austin does not allow any customers (that pay over $30/month for waste collection) to get rid of excess trash….ANYWHERE. You call local area landfills and what you quickly find out is that there is at least a $60 minimum charge. Most other cities (that charge much less per month for more services) provide area dumping stations where customers can dump their excess waste for free……instead of dumping it illegally. Unfortunately this means that many East Austin areas (parks, roadsides, etc…) become illegal dumping sites. A situation that would be easily avoidable if the city would provide a place for paying customers to dump their garbage legally. Way to go City of Austin…….

  22. Hi Doug,

    We now live in the City of Austin city limits and they have free bulk pickup every now and then. So, a pile of rubbish that I pulled from my attic (left by previous owner) I was able to pile at the street and the pickup was free. Formerly, at my address in the County, this would have been another truckload to the dump.

    So, I have to say that the city pickup service is something that seems like a good deal and probably saves 1000s of trips to the dump each year for City of Austin trash customers.


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