Friday Rant: Trash Removal — An Overdue Target for Municipal Savings

Garbage collection is as costly as it is filthy. No one likes to think about it but I suspect we've all witnessed the process at one time or another and thought "that is one hard dirty job." It is. It's also probably the most well paid menial job in the market place in the upper five figures. And I hope we can all agree that our trash men and women deserve the generally high level of pay -- twice the national median -- that they earn. But the management and structure of many municipality waste removal organizations is (excuse the pun), in fact, very wasteful.

This past week's WSJ ran a full page article on how Chicago's new, no nonsense mayor, Rahm Emanuel, plans to change the gross waste removal inefficiencies in the windy city with likely lessons for other large cities. Mayor Emanuel claims "The current system, based on ward boundaries, is no longer sustainable ... Chicago spends approximately $100 more per ton to collect garbage than L.A. and Boston ... [and] I don't think our garbage is more valuable than theirs". The primary issue to which he refers is that "Chicago doesn't have one system serving its 600,000 households. It has 50 [and] each of the 50 wards is its own garbage district with its own bureaucracy, equipment, laborers and drivers." The mayor is also railing against total time worked on a shift audited at about 5.5 hours and worker attitudes as expressed by one driver who claims "Nobody works for the city for eight hours ... Not the mayor, not anybody."

Rahm -- whom I'm surprised hasn't been nicknamed "Ram" -- likely works well over sixty hours/week and has a big challenge ahead. But what about other more ubiquitous trash collection issues?

On my block in Philadelphia, trash is collected Monday's on the South side of the street and on Thursday's on the North side, of the same street. And rather than make the system more efficient, the Streets Department (as it's called) has taken to balancing their budget by fining residents for having more than three cans with additional citations if cans aren't covered -- which might have something to do with the trash collectors tossing the lids like frisbees. Equally irksome is that on trash days, a half dozen trash trucks and workers are parked near the neighborhood recreation center for hours on collection days. That's either a darned long break time or part of their actual 5.5 hour work day.

As previously alluded to, I'm not trashing the trashmen. All systems and people need good management. And when it comes to waste disposal, we can all continue to hold our noses, but we had better open our eyes to wasteful spending.

- William Busch

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