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Municipal Waste Management: a Symbol of Centralized Inefficiency

Metro government wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. It didn’t really catch on until my early teen years. Prior to that, people were content to have municipal, county, and state government agencies operating separately. Tasks as simple as municipal waste management were handled efficiently and pretty cost effectively. Things are quite different today.

The push for metro government was all about increasing efficiency and cutting costs. But what have we discovered in the decades since we began pursuing the metro model? We have discovered that the bigger government gets, the more inefficient it gets. Big government is more wasteful, less efficient, less productive, and more expensive. Look no further than municipal waste management as proof.

Decentralized Garbage Collection

Garbage collection was a government function when I was a kid. However, it was decentralized. I lived in a small city of just about 40,000. The city handled garbage collection on its own. It had a fleet of trucks that collected garbage and took it to the county landfill. Outside of the city limits, the county handled collection. But rather than do it in-house, the county contracted collection and transport to private companies.

By the time I reached my teen years, things had started to change. Waste management throughout the county was centralized. A specific department within county government had been established to oversee everything from municipal waste collection to recycling. Guess what? Despite having the economics of scale on its side, the county spent a lot more money and still ended up being less efficient. People had trouble understanding why the metro model had failed them.

Government Involvement Equals Bureaucracy

Common sense seems to suggest that centralization makes things more efficient and cost effective. But theory and reality seldom agree. In reality, bigger organizations with more control are less efficient. They are more wasteful as well. And when you are talking government, you’re also talking bureaucracy.

Consider post-consumer recycling. Municipal governments around the country seek to recycle paper, glass, and certain types of plastic. And yet municipal recycling programs routinely fail because they cost too much money to operate. What is the problem? Bureaucracy. Centralized government entities tend to have too many hands in the kitchen, so to speak. They have too many rules to follow, too many people to pay, and very few practical ways to achieve accountability.

Decentralization Via the Private Sector

Centralization is a bad policy across the board. It is especially problematic when it involves government. On the other hand, decentralization via the private sector almost always produces better results. For evidence, look no further than Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics.

Seraphim Plastics recycles industrial plastic waste in seven states, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, and Kentucky. Their process is simple, and their requirements are minimal. They make money by selling the recycled plastic material as regrind. Meanwhile, the companies that generate the plastic waste make money by selling it to Seraphim Plastics. Everybody wins.

It should be noted that Seraphim Plastics isn’t the only company doing what it does. There are dozens of similar companies around the country. All have adopted a decentralized approach to solid waste management. They all make good money doing it. Unfortunately, centralized governments don’t know how to implement similar strategies. Or perhaps they just refuse to.

Count me among those who do not favor centralization. Count me among those who oppose metro government. History has proved that centralization does the opposite of what it is supposed to do. With very few exceptions, decentralizing things produces better results by putting both decisions and actions in the hands of individual people, rather than bureaucratic entities.

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