Wichita trash cooperative: gateway to mandatory recycling?


Opposition to a proposed trash pickup cooperative in Wichita focuses mostly on two issues: the free market, and specific problems with the program.

Conservative city council members — Paul Gray and Sue Schlapp in this case — advocate for a free market in trash collection. I appreciate that. But it is confusing to hear them advocate for a free market in trash collection when at the same time they vote for big-spending economic development programs that don’t work.

Brent Wistrom’s Wichita Eagle article Questions pile up as Wichita eyes trash plan does a fine job of laying out the unanswered questions and issues left to be resolved — if they can be solved.

These issues are important. But here’s the biggest reason to oppose this plan: it’s a gateway to mandatory recycling in Wichita.

Recycling, while held up by its supporters as a moral imperative if we care anything about the planet, is a gigantic waste of resources. There are only a few settings in which recycling makes any sense at all. Automobiles and commercial cardboard are two such situations.

In almost any other area, recycling uses more resources than it saves, despite the claims of its proponents.

We need to look no farther than economics to learn the true value of an activity or a resource. In the case of recycling — except for the narrow examples mentioned above — most people have to pay to have their recycled goods hauled away. Or, they must incur costs themselves in hauling them somewhere that will accept them.

Yes, Waste Connections in Wichita has a recycling program that pays people to recycle. Or does it? The program works this way: First, people pay $3.75 per month for recycling bins and their pickup twice monthly. By filling the recycling bin people can earn points which they may redeem for rewards.

The roundabout approach to paying people to recycle only highlights the unfavorable economics of recycling. Why doesn’t Waste Management simply pay people for their recycled goods? Or why don’t they pick them up for free?

The fact that Waste Management won’t engage in a straightforward transaction with its recycling customers allows the company to appear to be politically correct towards recycling, while at the same time escaping the fact that household recycling simply does not pay. Here’s Daniel K. Benjamin explaining the economics of curbside recycling in Eight Great Myths of Recycling:

The numbers I have presented here avoid these problems and make clear that, far from saving resources, curbside recycling typically wastes resources — resources that could be used productively elsewhere in society.

Indeed, a moment’s reflection will suggest why this finding must be true. In the ordinary course of everyday living, we reuse (and sometimes recycle) almost everything that plays a role in our daily consumption activities. The only things that intentionally end up in municipal solid waste — the trash — are both low in value and costly to reuse or recycle. Yet these are the items that municipal recycling programs are targeting, the very things that people have already decided are too worthless or too costly to deal with further. This simple fact that means that the vast bulk of all curbside recycling programs must waste resources: All of the profitable, socially productive, wealth-enhancing opportunities for recycling were long ago co-opted by the private sector.

Commercial and industrial recycling is a vibrant, profitable market that turns discards and scraps into marketable products. But collecting from consumers is far more costly, and it results in the collection of items that are far less valuable. Only disguised subsidies and accounting tricks can prevent the municipal systems from looking as bad as they are.

That’s right: The sober assessment of the price system is that in the context of households, recycling is a waste of resources. Although if people want to pursue it as a pastime or hobby, I have no objection.

Nonetheless, supporters of recycling such as Wichita City Council member Janet Miller still believe in the false moral imperative of recycling. At last week’s workshop on Wichita trash, she said “There is only a finite amount of space on earth to bury stuff. At some point there’s not going to be any more room to bury stuff.”

The fact is that landfills occupy a minuscule fraction of available space. We have plenty of space for trash.

But the misinformed or uninformed attitude of Miller and a few others on the council — and maybe some bureaucrats too — is that recycling activity by Wichitans must increase, no matter how much of a waste of time it is.

Answer this question: once Wichita has a mandatory, city-controlled and city-regulated trash pickup process in place, what’s to stop city hall from mandating that we recycle?

Nothing, as far as I can tell.

That’s the best reason for opposing takeover of our trash system by the city.


10 responses to “Wichita trash cooperative: gateway to mandatory recycling?”

  1. A Nony Moose

    Once again we have the elitists on the City Council with a solution in search of a problem. Yes trash trucks are loud and heavy but I do not buy the “tearing up the streets” argument. Isn’t the building and maintaining of roads one of the only legitimate functions of government? Is that not why we pay gas taxes among others?

  2. frustrated conservative

    I want to save money!!! That’s it. I now pay $92+ quarterly so obviously I am not one of the lucky ones to be in a big development to negotiate lower fees (which makes it far easier for those lucky folks to oppose this change). I think having a co-op is a better solution unless franchising would be lower fees yet. I grew up in a town of 5k where the city picks up trash themselves. I see it as no different as any other services the city provides (gas, electricity, water, building & maintaining streets, etc).

  3. frustrated conservative, how hard is it to use Lies trash service? I pay 45 dollars per quarter for it.

    There is no real reason for a takeover, but I’m sure they’ll use Derby as an example to justify their wants.

  4. I agree, Bob, that recycling does not pay economically. We have had Waste Connections’ recycling service, even before their rewards program was implemented. We have always paid extra for it, but never received any kind of reduced pricing for the reduction in volume in regular trash. Make no mistake, the “rewards” are not rewards at all. In exchange for the points that we build up, the “rewards” that are available are all from other merchants and they are nothing but coupons–inducements to get us to spend more money on things that they otherwise would not be able to sell (e.g. lunch at a neighborhood restaurant between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm weekdays; an appetizer with two entrees that each cost $15 or more; one “free” pizza when you buy another one at full menu price). Furthermore, when redeeming points on line, we had to wait 2 – 3 weeks for the rewards coupons to be delivered–that’s when I found out the fine print on every “great deal.”

  5. Anonymous

    Chad pays $45/qtr for Lies because he lives in a neighborhood that gets a special deal. (You can get special deals with Lies if you sign up your neighborhood and 80% of your neighborhood is using them within a year.) Lies’s regular rate is $60-$63/qtr. Frustrated Conservative, sounds like you have Waste Connections. I called them several years ago, telling them I was changing to Lies, and they matched the trash only price. So, I now have trash and recycling for less than $70/qtr.

  6. Craig Gabel

    The free market works best, and as usual the Wichita city Council resorts to MORE quasi socialist alternatives.
    Lets assume there arguments are valid about everything, (they are not) How can it possibly benefit the consumer (you)
    for some cooperative where somebody sets the area and price for your trash removal and recycling. Anytime power is concentrated into the hands of the few as opposed to the hands of the actual purchaser you open the door for abuse and corruption.
    If we truly need to do some of these things, do the franchise system.
    1. Disqualify anyone that accepts trash tipping fees. (they would have an unfair advantage)
    2 Break the City into 10 block by 10 block areas.
    3 Set a minimum level of service to be bid.
    4 Allow everyone (except tipping companies) to bid on these
    areas and pick the lowest cost 3.
    Consumers will get the lowest cost with guaranteed services.
    The city will only have 3 companies on the streets in each area instead of 30.
    Tree huggers like Ms. miller will get limited recycling, and reduced energy and pollution.

  7. Benjamin

    I recycle metals for an extra income. Having said that, if I recycled all the plastics and paper weekly then I would not produce much or have alot. Go to scrap websites and you will see that these recycled goods RARELY go back to be used in American products. 3rd world and developing countries (and China) buy most of our paper, carboard, plastics and metals. I have seen prices for carboard be $250 USD/ton. Carboard is not light. plastic weighs alot when shredded and bailed.

    I recycle because I WANT TO. If you force me then I will not. As far as this forced trash service goes, I live a few blocks from Ballingers, yet I do not use them. They quoted me 10 dollars more than what some of my neighbors and father pays. Another service told me less so I went with them. Since they compete, they will pick up those extra bags that I put out once in awhile. That kind of service will end if this happens. They figure they allready have you as a customer so the”screw you” attitude will emerge and customer service will be lost. I have a few ways to protest this. Pay a junk removal service to pick up a pile of garbage in your backyard for 30 to 50 bucks, burn small amounts of trash in your backyard or just throw the bags out in the street and refuse to take forced trash service because you are not a limp wristed slave. I think i will choose number 3 and face jail time for it. I do not care. I am sick of this as Mr. gabel calls it “quasi socialism”. I will call it what it is… insanity (look up the definintion yourself), fascism (again look up definition, socialism would not have a company unless the government owned it involved) and most of all…… lets all say it together people… TYRANNY!

  8. Sheila

    Janet Miller, you are so PC you probably starch your underwear! Loosen UP a little!

  9. Larr Womack

    We have one gas service, one Electric company, one Cable company. Why not one trash collector???

  10. Anonymous Mike

    Hi, the government of the City of Wichita is NOT COMPETENT to make decisions. (PERIOD). I’m willing to vote against pretty much anything that our city government plans to run. The only purpose of our city government is to transfer money from the taxpayer to certain local companies, and from those companies to our elected officials.

    Government of the city government, by the city government, and for the city government shall not perish from this earth.

    Thanks Abe.

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