Duff O'Melia

The Government and Garbage Pickup

Government is quite good at creating monopolies and stifling competition.

Should the government be responsible for trash pickup? Many people today would say yes. Many of those same people would argue that if the government doesn’t provide the service, how would poorer folks pay for it? Others would say that a competitive market always produces a better result for more people than a coercive monopoly.

When we lived in Apex, North Carolina, our town provided garbage pickup as a service. Everyone in the town was forced to pay the town fees every month. They could raise rates whenever they wanted, and the provider wasn’t exactly keen on making the residents that happy because they already owned the market by virtue of the coercive monopoly instituted by the town of Apex.

Now, we’re living in Johnston County, North Carolina. No government entity has mandated that we use a particular trash service. What does this mean for our neighborhood? Companies are competing with each other! They care about the customers! I’ve forgotten to put my trash out on the street a few times. The driver actually walked up my driveway and took my trash for me! That would never happen in Apex. When my can fell over in big storm and broke, they brought out a new can.

People in the neighborhood have chosen different service providers depending on the services they provide. So now, a whole bunch of things matter: their prices, their customer service, the size of their cans, their pickup schedules, their promptness, and their willingness to exceed customer expectations. It’s an outstanding example of the free market and how much better it works than some bureaucrat deciding what’s best for people. One of my neighbors wants to save the money entirely and drops his garbage off at the dump. He can actually opt out of the whole system.

I recently received a letter in the mail from a competitor saying they’d like to be the pickup service of choice in our neighborhood. They’re willing to go down to $45 per quarter to win my business. I’m currently delighted with my pickup service (Waste Industries). I’m paying $67 per quarter. So I call them up and ask if they’d be interested in matching the price of their competitor. Of course they would!