Jane Stromberg: Burlington needs consolidated municipal waste collection

This commentary is written by Burlington City Councilor Jane Stromberg.

Waste, garbage, waste, offal, garbage. These are just a few names for something most Vermonters don’t think twice about when they pack it in their residential dumpster or move their trash cans to the side of the road, the contents of which will no longer be. never seen again.

The people of Burlington spend hundreds of dollars a year on garbage collection services, but the topic is hardly discussed in public or raised as a significant issue.

Burlington residents, like most Vermonters, usually easily recognize the standard dark blue background and white font at Casella Waste Systems, a business empire responsible for collecting not only most of Vermont’s trash, but also most of the garbage from the surrounding states of New England.

Casella is highly regarded, with revenues of over $ 600 million in 2018, with more value in its 1,400 trucks and tens of thousands of dumpsters and wheeled bins. Most importantly, Casella has a very valuable resource in the modern economy: Vermont’s only open-cast landfill, located in the Northeast Kingdom.

Why is this important? After all, it’s just garbage, isn’t it? Well, like almost all parts of the American economy, a single company has almost monopoly power in a specific regional market and uses it for its own profit.

In Vermont, including Burlington, Casella wields significant control over the state’s waste management system, as well as significant political influence within Montpellier, including generous donations to political campaigns, elected officials, and government officials. disclosed lobbying expenses.

Not only should this economic influence raise eyebrows, but Casella’s current position also allows it to get away with various controversial environmental practices, illustrated in its 2018 annual report which indicates that Casella paid millions of dollars in liabilities and cleanups. throughout New England. Indeed, Casella’s practices have earned him the title of one of the dirtiest polluters in the entire region, according to the Toxics Action Center.

But the future is not as hopeless as it seems. Improvements in waste management practices are often made during times of environmental concern. Burlington’s Consolidated Recycling Program was created at such a time and has proven to be environmentally friendly and cost effective over the many years the city has run it. The city has proven that it can compete with the private sector, create good union jobs for the middle class, and run a democratically controlled, environmentally and economically efficient local nonprofit program as an essential public good.

We are currently living through a period of similar concern. A study commissioned by the city’s Department of Public Works found that Burlington’s current collection system has serious environmental problems: more truck traffic, emissions and road damage from multiple carriers serving the same streets. This is due to the fact that there are currently four major waste haulers, including Casella, and several other compost haulers serving residential properties in the city.

He also found that consolidating this system reduces the environmental costs of excessive truck traffic, with an estimated two-thirds reduction in vehicle kilometers traveled and emissions if a fully consolidated collection system is adopted.

In addition, the consolidation would reduce the impacts on infrastructure from excessive truck traffic, reduce waste using wheeled carts by all residents and reduce noise in neighborhoods. According to the public works department, while “the current collection of residential waste, recycling and compost is fragmented, inefficient and expensive, [a] A fully consolidated collection system will improve convenience, reduce environmental and community impacts, and save residents money.

The ministry also looked at the economics of a consolidated collection system. He found that a consolidated system achieves greater economies of scale, predicting that Burlington residents could save between $ 1.6 million and $ 3.6 million annually by implementing a weekly consolidated collection model by report to residents with a weekly subscription model. And he found that the monthly cost between a public municipal system and a privatized franchise system is about the same.

So why choose the municipal system? Why should people care about creating a municipal waste collection system, let alone even speak out publicly for it? Well there are several reasons

1. The collection and management of solid waste is a recognized public need, function and essential public good. A public system allows for more public, democratic and economic control. A municipal system will create a publicly owned, affordable and efficient public service for an essential social function.

2. Public control can take into account considerations other than the private profit of owners, which allows us to value the concerns of taxpayers, the environment and workers. This means greater control and flexibility over tariffs and system design, as public tariffs are not based on sufficient profits for private owners or on tendering for many years at a time. .

3. Consolidated public collection is the system that is most in the public interest because consolidation creates monopoly conditions less conducive to lower costs through competition; monopolization is favored because customer costs decrease as the number of customers increases, thus making competition less advantageous.

The Department of Public Works analysis shows that profitability – providing the same level of service at a significantly lower cost – is not created by franchising to private carriers like Casella.

4. A public system will build a stronger middle class, a fairer economy by increasing unionized jobs and fighting privatization which would eliminate unionized jobs and replace them with lower paying jobs with less good benefits (i.e. i.e. no retirement). Consolidation of collection could provide on-the-job protections like union contract and grievance procedures.

5. A municipal system keeps the revenue generated in the hands of the state. The city is well positioned to administer a program as it operates a city-wide recycling system and public water and electricity systems. This would increase the capacity of the Department of Public Works by adding staff who could be used for other purposes, such as snow removal and street cleaning.

A consolidated municipal waste collection service would therefore simplify collection routes and contracts, reduce environmental costs, provide more union jobs in the region, etc. And this idea is not from another world; 83% of American communities have the municipality which collects the waste streams itself or contracts with private carriers, 40% of these having a municipal operation.

Indeed, Burlington itself had a consolidated waste collection service until the austerity cuts in the 1970s. The idea of ​​a consolidated municipal public waste collection system is not “radical”; it is common sense.

The big question before us is, therefore, does the City of Burlington really want to continue with a privatized waste management system? The risks of monopolization and higher long-term costs to the city are already realized under the current influence of Casella’s waste collection and will be increased under a franchise system. Public and democratic social services have proven to be much more beneficial to communities and are worth the costs in the short term.

So, does Burlington need, or rather deserve, a better waste collection system than it already has? I believe it and I am not alone. The city will certainly have high short-term costs, and of course there will be problems along the way, as there are with any public project.

But with the resulting long-term benefits for the city, the local work community, and the environment, it may be worth it. I hope you will join me in supporting a municipal consolidated collection system.

Melissa C. Keyes