Re: [GRRN] BFI Discontinues Curbside

William P McGowan (
Thu, 7 Oct 1999 09:24:45 -0700 (PDT)

Cindy--Here's a response to some of your questions. The bottom line is
thet enivitability of curbside programs was this: if consuers do not pay
for the collection, companies will not be offering the service free
because they can not cover their costs. Though I know all caps comes
across as SCREAMING on the internet, please excuse their use here so you
can see my response clearly.

> > My questions
are: > 1. For those familiar with regional markets, have prices recently
> plunged?

No, in fact, prices for everything have risen in the last six months.
It is just that all of the other so-called national waste service firms
are transitioning to pay-for-recycling platforms because they have
disciovered whast those of us "old line recycliners" knew for years--the
costr of collection, processing, and marketing costs far more than the
value of the materials recovered. Why do you think no private company
ever offered these servioces before governments began mandating them?
Second, as far as the political economy of recycling at the end of the
20th cCentury, garbage/recycling are not hot political issues anymore.
Part of that can be explained by the hyperbole of environmentalists who
pushed curbside in the first place--politicians were told that there was a
"landfill shortage" when in fact there was nothing of the sort (WMX even
went so far as to underreport its landfill capaciotyu so as to encourage
this myth)--when politicians found out they had been lied to, they
discounted everything else curbside recycling propoenents had to say.

> 2. What's the best path to getting a curbside program reinstituted? I'm
> guessing it's working with the county commission to set up franchise
> agreements and make contracts conditional upon offering recycling. The
> county is already talking about harmonizing service. At present it
> varies greatly throughout the region -- and in our neighborhood I see
> five collection trucks and formerly one recycling truck a week. BFI
> offers two day and one day a week service -- different days -- and Waste
> Management collects the other two days. Crazy.

The best way to get curbside back is be willing to pay for it--that is
philosophy of former USA Waste CEO John Drury, who left BFI as #2 after
diagreeing with Ruckelshouse about the costs/benefits of recycling. His
vision, that of making the customer pay for every service they want,
seems to be the dominant sentiment in the business now.

I see thius part of a curcular pattern, where refuse/recycling issues
gain and fade in political popularity in cycles--Schumpeterian cycles of
entrperpeenruial deveopment. garbage companies sowed the seeds of their
own curvbside recycling program's destruction by not paying attention to
market signals, so they expanded too fast, lost political supprot, and
are now fading. Don't worry, you will live lonbg enough to see another
resurgence of this issue in another ten to twenty years--right after the
next recession.

William P. McGowan
UCSB History/Rincon Recycling