A New Jersey-based company that plans to begin collecting trash in Altoona the first week of September may have local haulers over a barrel.
Interstate Waste Services of Basking Ridge has been sending salespeople door-to-door to persuade residents to sign one-year contracts for trash service at $16.50 a month, according to attendees at a haulers' meeting held Tuesday by the Intermunicipal Relations Committee.
The current range of prices in the area is $17 to $25, with no contracts, John Scarangella of Scarangella's Disposal said.
"This is cut-throat," Jim Bongiorno of Jim's Hauling said. "Our backs are against the wall,"
It's competition of a different sort than the gentlemanly ways local haulers have been dealing with each other for years, Scarangella said.
Not only is the big, out-of-town newcomer actively soliciting business from other haulers' customers, but its representatives are suggesting that residents can put all their trash together in violation of recycling laws, and in some cases, put it out on days of the week other than days specified by ordinance for collection in their areas, according to some haulers who attended the meeting.
"We're fighting for our livelihood," Judy Green of Joe's Hauling Services said.
Interstate isn't planning to violate any ordinances, said the supervisor of Interstate's operation in Somerset, who attended the meeting but didn't speak out during it or give his name to the Mirror afterward.
Originally, Interstate was planning to service this area two days each week, the supervisor said.
But it recently bought a split-body packer for trash and recyclables specifically for this territory, and will collect here five days a week, he said.
As for the accusation that the firm has been engaging in "cut-throat" competition?
"It's legal," he said.
Maybe the current easy relationship between haulers here is collusion, he suggested.
That in itself can be a legal problem, he said.
It's a free-market system here, as the haulers themselves have helped to ensure, IRC Executive Director John Frederick said.
Around a decade ago, many of those haulers joined to dissuade Altoona City Council from a plan to adopt a single-hauler system that would have eliminated most of that competitiveness.
Scarangella counseled haulers to keep things in perspective.
"Remember when Waste Management came in?" he asked, speaking of another national firm that offered low prices to get a foothold in the area about 10 years ago. "You just have to weather the storm."
Waste Management eventually raised its prices so they were comparable to those of other haulers.
He predicted that Interstate will jack up its prices after a year and even may abandon some customers it finds unfeasible to serve at the introductory price due to location or their volume of trash.
"Beware of being manipulated," he warned.
"We won't abandon customers," the Interstate employee said.
Some of Scarangella's customers have gone over to Interstate already, but he'll welcome them back whenever they decide to return, he said.
Some have already done so, he said.
Local customers tend to be loyal to their local haulers, because those haulers provide custom services like picking up trash at specified locations, he said.
"We've spoiled them," he said.
It will cost $50 for those who sign the Interstate contract to get out early, according to a copy obtained by the Mirror.
Interstate is entering the local market to fill the gap between its interests in Centre and Cambria counties, IRC education and enforcement coordinator Katrina Pope said.
The IRC didn't invite the company in, she said.
The IRC has talked to the company about its responsibility to recycle and obey local ordinances and will enforce those ordinances with Interstate just as it does with current operators, Frederick said.
The committee can't cite the company for its representatives' sales pitches, however, before the firm has even begun collecting here, he said.
"[But] when September comes, you better be on their [butt] as much as you're on our [butt]," Green said. "I'll definitely be watching."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.