Friday, March 31, 2006

Trash Talking at Waste Management

In a thoughtful article in this week's Village Voice Tom Robbins delves into the labor dispute between Waste Mangement and Local 813 of the Teamsters. The bottom line: If no agreement is reached the city could well be looking at a garbage strike in the private sector come April 1st.

What is particularly of interest here is Robbins' narrative about the evolution of the city's commercial garbage collection. He rightly points out that then elimination of the unsavory element and the ushering in of Waste created its own problems. In fact, as Ray Kerrison pointed out over ten years ago in a NY Post column, "The Hoodlums are Out, But Who's In?"

In some ways the city traded in one monopoly for another and the fanfare surrounding the elimination of the "mob tax" proved to be premature: First, the big national firms, with Waste Management in the lead, started dropping customers, complaining that the city's cap on garbage collection prices was too low. The city responded by allowing some prices to rise, with the predictable result that many small businesses complained that their costs soared by 500 percent."

As a result, disposal costs for the city's food stores and restaurants now exceeds those charged during the reign of the old mob cartel. This is precisely why the Alliance has been advocating the use of food waste disposers for the private sector. It would dramatically reduce the amount of waste hauled from neighborhoods at both the retail and transfer station points in the disposal system. It would also, if implemented properly in the residential sector, dramatically reduce the city's garbage export costs.

In the process of removing the mob, however, Waste did emerge with a strong and profitable presence in the city's transfer station and garbage export business. It is the current duopoly that puts great pressure on the city and makes the export option so expensive. Innovation is stifled as alternative methods are stillborn given the private sector's stranglehold on solid waste management.