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Just How Big Of a Dumpster Fire Is Waste Management?

Let's look at the contract and customer complaint data.

· Waste Management,Contract Management,Dumpster Contract,BBB,Purchase Experience

In 2003, film critic Bill Muller wrote a review for the Arizona Republic on the remake of the classic 1974 horror movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In that review, he wrote the following line:

“This bloody, exploitative mess is the cinematic equivalent of a dumpster fire—stinky but insignificant.”

So began the pop-culture rise of the term "dumpster fire."

waste management vs republic services

There are occasions when the term "dumpster fire" is actually intended to be taken literally--such as the time in 2016 when St. Louis firefighters had to respond to more than 50 actual dumpster fires in a single night--but those are less frequent nowadays. For most of us, now, long gone are the good ol' days of actual dumpster fires. Today, if you hear someone say something like, "that Waste Management contract is a dumpster fire," you probably understand what they mean.

Here are a handful of other examples from a wide range of use-cases:

  • Legal - 2017 headline following the customer data breach at Equifax: "Equifax breach response turns dumpster fire"
  • Financial - 2019 evaluation by investment analyst of the performance of GE's stock: "From my perspective, GE's an absolute dumpster fire”
  • Political - 2016 comment by Marco Rubio's campaign manager: "Trump's 'Dumpster fire' may burn Republicans"
  • Media - Mother Jones magazine declares "dumpster fire" 2016 meme of the year
  • Sports - until 2018, many sports reporters regularly described the NFL's Cleveland Browns as a "dumpster fire"

The variety of ways people us the term "dumpster fire" is wide. But still, there seem to be thousands of purists out there arguing that there is no better application of the term "dumpster fire" than to the dumpster service providers themselves, companies such as Waste Management.

Also, because it's somewhat related to the general public opinion about the garbage industry...

waste management class action lawsuit

"Garbageman is one of the only job titles that gets more offensive when made gender neutral." —Demetri Martin

Fair enough: love the garbage man, hate the garbage company. We got it. Now...

Let's look at the complaint data about Waste Management.

Although you should be wary of surface-level data from a source like the Better Business Bureau (in a minute, I'll explain why I say this*), let's start there.

The BBB tries to organize complaints they receive about a business into one of five categories:

  • Advertising/Sales Issues - 17
  • Billing/Collection Issues - 576
  • Delivery Issues - 68
  • Guarantee/Warranty Issues - 1
  • Problems with Product/Service - 882

In total--as of this writing--there have been over 1,500 complaints lodged against Waste Management to the BBB in the last 3 years. The distribution of those complaints is denoted by the number to the right of each category above.

waste management phone number

*Continued from above: the reason you should be wary of surface-level data from a source like the Better Business Bureau is this: look at the "BBB rating" of A+ and then ask yourself how that squares with the complaint count below it. The answer is that Waste Management pays BBB, and other "complaint sites" similar to the BBB, to manage (and in some cases suppress) customer complaint content so that Waste Management can continue to project a false caliber of reputation. Certainly, the BBB serves a purpose, but when its business model is to depend on payments form the companies you complain about, you should wonder whose side the BBB is on.

After reading through several hundred of those complaints, three themes seem to emerge, each of them sharing a common thread of over-promising and under-delivering.

1) Complaints about the quality and reliability of Waste Management's trash collection service...

Many Waste Management customers report that the Waste Management salesperson who executed the contract with them grossly misrepresented the quality of the trash service itself--and the supporting customer service when issues arise (and with Waste Management, they seem to arise often).

Complaints about the garbage trucks not showing up on time, or at all, were common. In addition to those complaints about reliability, complaints about the trash haulers spilling garbage when emptying the dumpster, but failing to clean up the mess from the ground and surrounding area, were also common. This led to the consequent complaint of customer service being rude, time-consuming, or generally unhelpful. Phone wait times of 45 minutes seemed to be normal for Waste Management. But even when a customer finally got through to a customer service employee, the problem would seldom be remedied, and the cause of the complaint would sometimes happen again the next time the garbage truck showed up.

waste management customer service

You obviously should not even have to complain about this, as it is the most fundamental thing you pay Waste Management for. (The parking lot, including the place where your dumpster sits, is the first thing your customers will see when they arrive at your property. You should not have to remind the garbage truck driver of this as a way to encourage him/her to not to leave spilled garbage behind.) I would characterize these ☝️ complaints as gripes about the thing those customers paid Waste Management for--quality, reliable trash service.

Talk to you never have to talk to Waste Management again.

Companies like Waste Management place constant demands on your time by presenting you with issues that you have to then spend time resolving. Wouldn't it be cool if you never had to talk to customer service again?

Our Purchase Experience Assistance clients use Veeto as their total vendor management solution: we handle all aspects of managing the products, services, and purchase experiences that follow from a purchase; and not only will we do the things that most people will not take the time to do, but we also have over a decade of experience making sure they are done correctly. You can see for yourself by clicking the button below.

waste management complaint

2) Complaints about the sneaky extra fees Waste Management charges--as well the crazy-high rate increases...

Investors love Waste Management for the same reason that many customers despise Waste Management. As one investment analyst put it, Waste Management is good at "turning trash into cash," a total of $14.91 billion in 2018 revenue. But the problem is with how Waste Management does this.

A big part of the equation seems to be unjustified, one-sided rate increases. Many Waste Management customers don't discover this until it is too late. The business model seems to simply be: (a) try to get the contract signed by burying all of the dirty caveats, (b) hope the customer doesn't notice in time to object, (c) and then keep hitting them with massive rate increases until they notice and complain.

"[M]ost waste hauling contracts are structured to double in six years and triple over ten years, even if the amount of waste generated has not changed." —Josef Mitkevicius, Florida Attorney in the Office of the Public Defender

Among the complaints we reviewed for this article, many people reported surprise rate increases of close to 100%. The grossly one-sided contract locks in the surprise rate increase for no good reason: the rate increase happens regardless of changes to underlying costs. The result is that, essentially, the longer your tenure with Waste Management, the higher price you will likely pay for trash service. That's the opposite of what most business owners would say makes sense.

waste management increased price

The rate increase is also not tied in any way to your usage of the trash service. So even if you were generating the same amount of garbage, or less, than when you first signed up, your rate will increase. Finally, the only way to defend yourself against the rate increase is to know several months in advance that it is coming and to then object to it in writing to Waste Management. Of course, Waste Management is not likely to send you any reminders, and they are further betting that you will also not consult your contract's fine print in time--they usually win this bet.

In addition to the crazy-high rate increases, every month, your bill will be padded with sneaky extra fees such as the "Fuel/environmental charge." Many of the complaints we reviewed for this article reported that if you add up all of those "junk fees," you might find that they increase your total monthly bill around 20%.

💡 While we're on the topic of rates, here's a pro tip:

"If you’re interested in cutting costs, saving money on commercial waste management expenses is one of the easiest ways to add thousands back into your budget." —Ben Kurland

You could try to save some money by downsizing the size of your dumpster, but not too small--because you probably don't want to end up like one business owner in Washington who arrived to work one morning to discover that someone had apparently stolen his Waste Management dumpster.

waste management illegal

Needing a dumpster to hold his trash, he immediately called Waste Management to get a new dumpster, and they brought him the one pictured above...which appears to be even easier to steal. He's probably paying less now than he was, but, uh...

Anyway, it's often the case that the Waste Management contract you are in strips away almost all of your leverage to re-negotiate your price--which, beyond a certain point, might actually be illegal:

"Waste hauling companies often charge customers abusively high rates and use the service agreements as a tool to take advantage of their customers. In many of these circumstances, the service agreement terms are so one-sided that they are violations of consumer protection statutes and basic principles of contract law." —Josef Mitkevicius, Florida Attorney in the Office of the Public Defender

Talk to a Purchase Experience Assistant.

Knowing your rights, and knowing which levers you can pull to get better rates is the only way to win in a negotiation with Waste Management. The problem is that trying to master even one of those, from scratch, can quickly snowball into a full-time job--something you probably don't have time for. Solution: Veeto's purchase experience assistants have a ton of experience dealing with Waste Management, and you can book a call with one directly by clicking the button below.

🚚 Takeaway: if your monthly bill is higher than the price stated in your original contract, that's a problem you should address immediately; if your bill this month is higher than it was the previous month, that's a problem, and you should address it immediately. Waste Management is not going to do you any favors or put itself in your shoes; Waste Management will simply charge you as much as they can, whenever they can, with as little justification as they can get away with.

Some might say that's just business. But regardless of where you line up on the ethical implications of that question, as a business owner, you better make sure you have someone actively managing your Waste Management account, your Waste Management bills, and your Waste Management contract. You can do this yourself, delegate it to someone on your staff, or outsource to a specialist third-party service like Veeto (simply click the blue button above). But don't take your eye off of Waste Management for as long they are sending you bills.

That segues neatly into the last of the three complaint themes our analysis found.

3) Complaints about the Waste Management contract itself...

Where should I even begin to enumerate all of the nasty bits of a Waste Management contract? Let's just start with the exclusivity clause that says something like, "customer grants [Waste Management] the exclusive right to collect all of customer's Waste Materials." This might seem like a harmless clause, because at the time you initially contacted Waste Management to inquire about its garbage service, your focus was in finding someone to haul your garbage. You were not thinking of your garbage as an asset to be bargained over. Waste Management knows this, of course, and so they are able to slip in this term right at the top of the contract.

waste management competitors

The reason this clause matters is because it furthers stifles Waste Management's competition, in the following way...

  • Suppose you become unhappy with the quality of Waste Management's service, or with the fact that its prices are 3 times more than some of its competitors in your local market.
  • You might think to yourself, "well, since I am mostly paying Waste Management for the amount of work they actually do (see table above, for example), I could just reduce the amount of trash I ask Waste Management to haul for the duration of my contract, thereby lowering my monthly fees to Waste Management, and I would then be free to contract with another garbage hauler.
  • Not so fast. In short, this exclusivity clause prevents you from doing that, which not only reduces your recourse when/if Waste Management does a poor job, but also insulates Waste Management, for the life of the contract, from price competition.
  • Since Waste Management contracts tend to last for 3 or more years, overlooking this clause can cost you big time.

What should you do instead? Treat your garbage the same way that Waste Management treats it, as if it were an asset; and you can then use this as a bargaining chip at the point of negotiating your contract.

cancel waste management

Next, in the sample data we reviewed, there were hundreds of complaints about auto-renewal, exorbitant early termination fees, and even extra "exit fees" such as the several hundred dollars Waste Management charges just to come to your property and remove the dumpster. Many customers did not even realize the contract contained many of these terms until they tried to cancel the Waste Management contract and in turn received a nasty-gram like the one pictured above.

There is a strong argument to be made--which many lawsuits, lawyers, and purchase experience assistants like Veeto have made, successfully--that a liquidated damages calculation equal to the [monthly fee] x [the remaining number of months in the contract] is unenforceable. I won't go into all of the technical details why this is often a wining argument. But I will summarize it as this: most courts have said that a liquidated damages clause is only enforceable when the actual damages are difficult to calculate. But given that standard, the very simplicity of Waste Management's equation for calculating liquidated damages suggests that actual damages are not actually difficult to calculate.

cancel your waste pickup contract

Why then would Waste Management prefer a liquidated damages clause over a simple calculation of actual damages? Because the invocation of actual damages entails a number of mechanisms for reducing the actual damages you might have to pay. These mechanisms include things like how much replacement revenue Waste Management could/should be able to generate by renting your old dumpster to some other unsuspecting victim (I mean, customer) and how much Waste Management had been charging you versus the then prevailing market rates. Also, this would force Waste Management to justify, in public, the basis for each of the fees it charged you, which, like many usuriously priced services, it probably does not want to do.

What should you do about this?

Know your contract and all of its terms, both before you sign and every month thereafter. This sounds simple, but most business owners fail to do this consistently--not just with Waste Management contracts, but with all kinds of vendors and service contracts. In fact, this is probably one of the primary reasons people use Veeto's purchase experience assistants: because the cost of not having a dedicated resource on each of your service/vendor accounts is far higher than the cost of just doing right to begin with.

To get your own, dedicated, purchase experience assistant, book a micro-consultation today.

Verdict? (Hint: see flaming dumpster below.)

Because of the nature of what Veeto does, it is pretty common for the first time someone learns about Veeto--and the whole concept of a purchase experience assistant--to be when they encounter a major problem with one of their services/vendors; and wanting to cancel a contract early is the single largest use-case people bring us in their first conversation with us. For example, in the past year, I have personally 1,161 such complaints about Waste Management from people who were not yet using Veeto.

On the upside, once you find Veeto, and start using it, your purchase experiences will all start to get better almost immediately. But on the downside, you still have to start by dealing with a large, potentially expensive, legal issue that might have been easily avoided altogether had you had a purchase experience assistant in place.

pay waste management bill

There is no question that, according to the complaint data, Waste Management is well-deserving of the dumpster fire moniker (you probably sensed that conclusion already as you read through this article). But the more important question is: if you know this, and you are doing business with Waste Management, then what are doing to shield yourself from its "stinky," "exploitative" flames?

Dealing with Waste Management is hard.

Veeto makes it a lot easier. Click the easy button.

veeto micro-consultation