Many people are concerned with pollution and recycling, as evidenced by the endless supply of recycling bins we can see these days. Signs asking people to recycle more and more things are put up just about everywhere. This concern largely comes from the fact that many people are increasingly worried about the gross amount of waste continuously produced by humans. However, efforts to socially pressure one another into recycling everything yield very underwhelming results because too many of us simply don’t see any immediate personal benefit by doing it.
An interesting idea to reduce waste that is very rarely mentioned by environmentalists is to entirely privatize the garbage collection process. To understand how this might decrease the amount of garbage produced by everyone, we must look at the economic impacts of the current public system.
As it is now in most of North America, when an individual produces garbage, the only thing they must do in order to dispose of it is to put it in a plastic bag or in their government provided waste bin and wait for the government to come pick it up. The government then simply puts the collected waste into a landfill. Naturally, the vast majority of people end up looking at this method of proceeding as the only way to go about it, despite the problems it causes.
In this system, the individual producing the waste does not directly pay for it; they can produce garbage for free. Unfortunately, the garbage truck does not descend from heaven. The person paying for the garbage collector’s wage, trucks and landfills, is the taxpayer. This is where the careless attitude that many people have towards recycling comes from. When the person producing waste pays their own bill, they have a great incentive to produce less waste individually. Therefore, if someone pays a price to dispose of their garbage but not to dispose of their recyclable materials, they will tend to recycle more. All that is needed for this to happen is simply that governments stop collecting everyone’s garbage. Naturally, the demand for garbage collection would be met by entrepreneurs looking to start a new business.
In some parts of the world, trash is being burned to make energy. There are two sources of revenue from this: the fee charged to those willing to dispose of their waste and the sale of the energy produced. However, when the government takes everyone’s trash without charging anything, it is impossible for private companies to charge a fee since no one will choose to pay for such a service if it is offered for free. This makes it much less likely that such a program would be started by private companies and leaves us with nothing for the moment.
Of course, a government can do all these things by itself but there is no reason to think that it can do them better than private companies can. It is only able to run garbage collection as well as it runs postal services, public transportation, and all the rest. Naturally, the competition present in a free market fosters ever greater efficiency, so why would we welcome it in so many aspects of our lives only to reject it arbitrarily in some others?
Written By: Jacob H. Dufresne