Privatized Waste Can Save Money and the Environment

With the national economy in a state of flux and communities across the country weighing critical budget decisions with trepidation, one solution seems impossibly simple-”reduce waste.

What’s one area in which we can reduce waste? Waste. Communities can very capably preserve crucial jobs, reduce actual waste production and save substantial money at once by tapping private companies for their waste and recycling management needs, all while protecting the environment.

Privatizing waste and recycling collection, processing and disposal services can be a shot in the arm for communities with strained budgets and tenuous economies. Studies have shown that competitive delivery of waste and recycling services typically delivers a cost savings between 20 and 40 percent because private companies benefit from economies of scale that allow them to spread investment, environmental protection and procurement costs over multiple contracts and facilities. -¨

Communities also benefit from private waste and recycling companies taking liability off their shoulders, in terms of both financial risk and safety. The private sector has more experience and ability at assuming and managing the commodity market risk than government officials. This is particularly important because recyclables are among the most volatile of all commodities.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that solid waste management services operated by local governments are four times likelier than private sector waste management companies to have a safety incident. Privatizing allows local governments to avoid accidents while lowering their exposure to disability, workers compensation and other accident claims.

Finally, while recycling and responsible waste management help us keep the environment pristine, functioning and healthy, these processes are more effective and impactful when run by private entities. The private solid waste sector is leading the way in converting to natural gas fueled vehicles to reduce emissions, and private solid waste and recycling collection companies are more likely to introduce and use other energy-saving technologies.

And it’s not just qualitative environmental benefits that we can reap through privatization -“ it’s quantitative as well. One of the myths about privatized recycling programs is that when municipalities remove themselves from the process, participation levels in the program go down. In fact, some of the communities in the United States with the highest levels of recycling participation -“ including San Francisco and Seattle -“ have fully privatized recycling services.

Michigan stands to benefit immensely from increased recycling rates-”both economically and environmentally. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) cited a study that said if Michigan were to match the 30 percent recycling rate of other Great Lakes states, it could produce between 7,000 and 13,000 jobs and up to $300 million in income.

The Michigan Recycling Coalition (MRC) reported in 2011 that the state is “woefully behind other states in its recycling efforts,” and that the state has had “numerous funding proposals” for a comprehensive approach to recycling in the last decade, though none were adopted.

Michigan’s 2007 Solid Waste Policy set two important goals: providing all residents access to residential recycling programs by 2012, and achieving a waste utilization rate of 50 percent by 2015. The policy touted economic vitality, ecological integrity and improved quality of life as the tenets of sustainability that would guide decisions regarding solid waste and recycling. Widespread privatization of the waste and recycling industry increases the likelihood that these goals will be achieved.

Our industry supports privatization because we believe private companies can do the best job, the most efficient job, the lowest-cost job and the most environmentally sustainable job handling recycling and waste removal needs. The MRC recognizes recycling as a unique opportunity “in which both public and private investment can cooperatively promote robust and sustainable economic activity while concurrently supporting environmental protection.” That’s our goal -“ promoting industry innovation and economic stimulation while serving as environmentalists every day.

What does this all mean to corporations, entrepreneurs and business leaders? If your business already is served by a private-sector waste and recycling company, you already are experiencing the benefits of competition and the necessity of workable operating costs.

If your business is currently not getting private-sector waste and recycling services, you might consider your options. If your city or county only offers municipal waste and recycling services, you could serve as a leader in your community and support privatizing waste and recycling services. Call or write your city and county officials to push for privatization as a solution.

Private companies can help take the waste out of your waste and recycling collection and management options. That is a sound business decision for your business, your city or county, and for Michigan.

Sharon H. Kneiss is the president and CEO of the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA). Located in Washington, D.C., EIA is a trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling services industry, with members in all 50 states that include garbage collectors, processors, recyclers, equipment manufacturers and other service providers. You can reach Kneiss at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.