Private Trash Collecting Counter-Points

David E. Kaplan penned at article on April 1st about St. Paul’s strange use of individual trash collecting contracting at the household level for the Daily Planet. In that piece, he profiled a woman, Mary Hamel, in St. Anthony Park who got organized and managed to get everyone on her block to consolidate their trash hauling needs with the company that already had 70% market share on her block. In exchange, she and all of her neighbors will have less traffic, longer lasting streets, breath less pollution, have less days of the week with trash bins at their boulevards, and have less chance of running into a trash truck

Oh, and the company they’ve consolidated with has agreed to give the block a discounted rate. Why? My guess is because the company saves time and money when they can hit every house on a block rather than plodding around for their widely distributed customers. It sounds like the neighborhood and the business both win in this scenario.

Of course, not every block has someone as motivated and organized as Mary Hamel. At the same time, not every block should need a Mary Hamel. For example, if Mary Hamel moved from St. Anthony Park to Minneapolis’ Prospect Park, she could apply her community organizing skills elsewhere because the trash collection consolidation problem has been solved.

Kaplan’s article goes on to provide some perspective from the solid waste industry.

It’s important to have individuals make their own decision on who hauls their waste,” said Doug Carnival with the National Solid Waste Management Association.

Really? Important to whom?

“This has been a tradition in Saint Paul for many years and it’s been a system that has operated very successfully in the vast majority of communities throughout the state of Minnesota.”

Tradition doesn’t make it right. “Successfully” for whom?

In fact, according to the NSWMA website, “in the last 10 years, 21 Minnesota cities and counties have studied government managed collection. In all cases, consumer choice has been preserved and the open competitive market built on innovation and quality service continues to provide the best value to citizens.”

Reading this, it sounds like the solid waste industry is more organized than their customers. If the best value comes from individual consumer choices, why can Mary Hamel get both cheaper and better service by consolidating with one vendor? It sounds like choice, in this case, is good for the vendor, but not for the consumers who have to deal with the externalities choice creates.

“If you were to decide that one hauler had the entire city, you would prevent small halers from bidding on an entire city contract. And if one hauler got that contract, you’d end up with many small haulers who would lose their customers through no fault of their own,” said Carnival.

That is a rather absurd point. It assumes that the ONLY way to consolidate block by block service is to have one trash collection contract and hauler for the entire city of St. Paul. It ignores every other conceivable option, such as providing bidding for city neighborhoods, zips, quadrants, communities, etc. All would allow a combination of small and large, new and old, companies to bid for business. And it would allow vendors to compete on both price and quality of service. If a company does a good job at a fair price, they’d be well positioned to win more business when contracts come up for renewal.

One thought on “Private Trash Collecting Counter-Points”

  1. Well said, Ed. It’s absurd to think a city-coordinated system requires just one vendor… Minneapolis is a fine example of how the contracts can be shared among multiple vendors or even some city employees and some contractors.

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