Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Talking trash

One of the many services that the county government provides us is trash pickup (and recycling, too). We do pay a trash tax, but it is not related to how much trash we individually produce. No matter how much or how little trash I produce, I essentially bear no additional expense or benefit from any cost savings since the expenses and cost savings are spread over thousands of other taxpayers. Therefore, my only incentive to reduce my trash output is to save the planet. And let’s be honest, that reason alone does not motivate a large number of people to modify their behavior.

If I had to take my trash to a private dump where I was charged by weight or volume I would be much more interested in recycling, composting yard and food waste, and I would be more mindful of the kinds of products that I buy (i.e. I would prefer goods with less packaging). The county government suggests that offering residents plastic recycling containers increases the recycling 25%. Even if that were true (and there is no evidence that it is), it seems minuscule to the environmental benefits that society would get if everyone paid for their own trash removal.

I am sure that many residents would not be jazzed about paying for gas to drive to the dump, so that would only put more downward pressure on how much trash they produce. Or, maybe some neighborhoods would find it efficient to rent a large roll off container like you frequently see at construction sites. Some residents could contract with trash pickup services, but those services would probably be more likely to charge based on the amount of trash they pick up, rather than just raping the county with a flat rate.

Although it is not a sexy idea, privatizing trash removal would make a positive impact on the environment. I would be willing to bet that those who would scream the loudest if trash removal was privatized are the same naive folk who think that the government should spare no expense to end our dependence on fossil fuels.


Anonymous said...

We should privatize the trash removal service. Growing up in Beltsville, we always had a private trash service, and they gave you SERVICE. You didn’t have to take your trash cans out to the curb; they came around to the side of the house and got your trash there. No limits on weight or what could be picked up, they just picked it up.

One time here in Howard County, we set the trash out on the curb, but they refused to take it. Why? Water had gotten into the can and it was just too heavy. Of course, my 12 year old son had no trouble taking that same, heavy can out to the curb from around our house.

They did leave us a nice sticker telling us it was too heavy for them to pickup.

Kem White said...

Howard County contracts with private haulers to provide curbside trash and recycling pickup. The county chooses the lowest price contractors under competitive bid. Curbside residential trash in HoCo currently goes to a private landfill in King George County, VA; recyclables to Ameriwaste Transfer & Recycling Center, another private firm. (I think in Elkridge.) I don't know how the private haulers decide what to bid to win the contract, but I've always assumed my annual trash fee was somehow a function of the winning bids.

Having Howard County participate in regional solid waste management activities and manage county collection programs seems better all-around than having me (and 100,000 other individual households) figure things out.

Freemarket said...

Kem, you are missing my point. Aggregating the costs of trash removal and recycling by having the government serve as a single buyer of these services creates a game theory. The more trash I produce, the better value I get as an individual.

I am playing the environmental angle here, but in principle I see no reason at all that the government should be the sole buyer of trash removal services. 100,000 households have no trouble figuring many other complex problems out be interacting with each other in the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Kem's point is that this particular service left in the hands of some citizens could generate a sanitation problem. Disease, rodents etc..

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon. My neighbors can't event pick up their weekly news papers. I can only imagine the amount of trash that would build up in their drive if they had to take it to the dump themselves. GROSS.

And even if some of them paid a private company, I doubt it would be any cheaper to pay a private company for household trash pick. I bet you pay a flat fee and not by weight when you are dealing with that small of an amount of trash each week.

FreeMarket said...

I don’t think that anecdotes about one’s neighbors are reason enough to force everyone to use the same trash company.