Mon, July 15

Commentary: Free enterprise spells end of government subsidies for recycling

As was the case in Cottonwood a year ago, the future of Sedona Recycles in Camp Verde is in jeopardy.

In late June, a warning cry of the demise of the Sedona Recycles bins was sounded by Town Council Member Bruce George, who urged people to chip in at the donation box near the bins in the Bashas' Shopping Center. To whatever degree that helped, it has not been enough.

This week, the Camp Verde Town Council learned that Sedona Recycles was upping the town's ante for the service from $6,000 annually to $19,380. That did not go over well.

When the same thing happened in Cottonwood last year, city officials said "see ya later." Guess what? The sky did not fall.

Recycling has followed a very parallel path to the one garbage collection has taken over the past 30 years.

There was a time when garbage collection was the exclusive domain of municipal government and lumped into a monthly water/sewer/garbage bill. If you lived outside the city limits, you hauled your own garbage to the landfill, or you burned it in a barrel.

One of my first jobs as a kid, in fact, was as a garbage collector. It was a two-man job. My partner and I would take a different part of town every day, drive down the alleys, and manually dump the contents of garbage cans into a dump truck. When full, we would then drive the garbage to a huge trench out in the desert, dump the garbage, and light it on fire. Every few months, the city would bury the pit over and dig a new one for us to begin the process anew.

This was the way the garbage collection business worked in the 1970s, at least in Arizona. Eventually the practice of dumping garbage into open pits and burning it ran afoul of the then-fledgling Environmental Protection Agency. We had to dispose of garbage in natural gas incinerators.

It took all the fun out of the job; no more aerosol spray can explosions. That ended my career as a garbage collector.

Over time, garbage collection systematically moved from the public to private sector. When cities and towns first began divorcing themselves from the garbage collection business, they contracted the job out to a private hauler through competitive bidding, a practice you still see in Clarkdale today. Clarkdale has had a single-vendor contract for at least 25 years. The town negotiates a competitive rate that includes extra services such as curbside brush pickup. Clarkdale also funds regional recycling bins in the parking lot next to the Clarkdale-Jerome School. The biggest advantage to single-vendor trash hauling for Clarkdale is less wear and tear on public and private streets. It is also less disruptive to neighborhoods to have one hauler instead of multiple haulers on multiple days.

Cottonwood and Camp Verde have let garbage collection go the way of free enterprise. Today, residents in Cottonwood and Camp Verde have the choice of four commercial haulers with whom they can do business. The municipality is hands-off.

Some garbage collection vendors have expanded their service to include the collection of recyclables, and that's become the biggest threat to organizations such as Sedona Recycles.

Recycling, like trash collection, was initially viewed as a service that could not survive without the government being involved. Cities and towns assumed some of the financial responsibility for recycling's success and survival. Large recycling bins were akin to trash collection's version of a landfill and government subsidies were essential to their success.

That's no longer the case. Free enterprise has come to the rescue. Commercial haulers have made curbside recycling a component of their service.

Why have taxpayers foot the bill when free enterprise has found the solution?