Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hauling the Garbage

Discussions about garbage collection isn't the most exciting of topics, but it does have significant impact on the community in a number of ways. It will affect constituent personal liberty, and economic tradeoffs. At the recent Oakdale City Council working meeting, May 24, 2011, the topic of garbage collection was discussed during the Environmental Commission interviews. The issue is a common problem for many municipalities. Arguably there are many issues that will be raised, "too many trucks", roadway damage, potential for accidents, fuel use, all due to overlapping of routes between waste haulers. The point was raised that Maplewood is moving toward a government managed system, and it was suggested that Oakdale should wait to see the outcome of their experiences, before any consideration.

Yet even as they discussed the off topic issue, the inherent losses that will come from such a change were brought up from their own experiences. The Commissioner being interviewed mentioned that he had switched companies a couple of years ago because his original hauler would not provide covered recycling bins. Others on the Council nodded in agreement, and said that they believed the hauler had since begun offering the covered bins. They theorized that the company had done so because of competition.

That competition and freedom of choice will be gone once a municipality begins to assign areas to specific haulers, or go to single vendor. With no risk of losing customers, the vendors prices and services are either unfettered, or set by the government. And like all governmental run systems, costs will usually tend to increase each year. Personal liberty to choose for costs, or service options will be surrendered.

Maplewood may choose a plan that will result in this loss of competition, with the full outcome not be known for years. Here is some of the discussion that took place there. This young woman does an excellent job summarizing the issues.

Some more thoughts on the issue in Maplewood:

The city is looking at consolidating trash pickup. According to City Councilman John Nephew, one possibility involves dividing the city into neighborhoods or zones. Companies would then bid for work in those zones. Nephew says he believes that system would be more efficient than the current one.

But Mike Berkopec, a spokesman for the Minnesota chapter of the National Solid Waste Management Association, says the costs of a change outweigh the benefits. Berkopec is in favor of allowing residents to choose which hauler they use.
It was a long night at the Maplewood city council meeting on March 28. Again, just like in October 2010, more than 200 residents attended this public hearing, where almost everyone who spoke expressed their dissatisfaction with the city council's intent to takeover garbage collection and eliminate resident's choice. Vocal citizen opposition to the scheme did not make a difference. The council voted 4 to 1 on a resolution of intent to organize garbage collection. The action does not require them to take away Maplewood residents' choice, but the council now can force through a change without any additional public input.

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