In July 1997, San Diego County sold its landfills and other solid waste assets to Allied Waste Industries, the second largest integrated solid waste and recycling company in the U..S, completing California’s largest ever privatization effort and one of the largest U.S. municipal asset privatizations.
The $184 million sale allowed the county to stabilize its financial position, pay off a $100 million debt from the old San Marcos recycling plant, establish an environmental trust fund to continue managing the county’s solid waste needs, created financial reserves and helped fund important county infrastructure investments. Benefits to county taxpayers included the transfer of environmental liability from the county to Allied and a more competitive and cost-effective trash disposal system. So, the questions is, should trash pick up in municipalities be managed and operated by private companies?
Extensive studies across the country are showing that there is merit in the discussion on having curbside trash collected by a solid waste and recycling company. Simply stated, most private hauling companies can collect waste and recyclables at less cost than a municipality with more service benefits to the public.
Private haulers are more efficient in managing resources and daily operations. And, community programs and partnerships can be much more extensive as municipalities’ battle to prioritize their very limited and scarce resources. Contracting out for municipal solid waste services has grown from 30 percent in 1987 to just over 70 percent in 2007.
In the area of recycling, the significant role of the private sector is best documented in the area of what is known as Material Recovery Facilities (MRF’s). These facilities process all the material you place in your blue container. Of all MRF’s in the U.S., 75 percent are privately owned, 20 percent are publicly owned and five percent have joint public-private ownership.
While the trend in municipal trash service is continuing to move in a privatized direction, 17 of the 18 jurisdictions in the county of San Diego are served by private trash companies, the importance of maintaining a highly trained and service oriented work force remains important to private contractors. Allied Waste Services in San Diego and Imperial County are proud to have a union workforce and value the contributions of working families and those who service our customers. This element of privatization should always be on the discussion table when talks about privatization take place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are significant public service areas where government services are critical and must be maintained, public safety is just one of many. But when it comes to providing integrated solid waste collection and recycling services, the benefits to taxpayers and the community from a private hauling company deserve at least a discussion on how best a community can provide its solid waste and recycling service.