Maintaining Markets

Fighting to maintain free and unencumbered markets is one of the most important roles of a trade association. The effort requires a grassroots campaign and a willingness by the public to voice concerns to local leaders.

This fall, the city of Wichita, Kan., directed its staff to study franchising as a means of managing trash service. This was the third time in 10 years that franchising was discussed. Two previous franchise efforts have failed. The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., took action by forming a workgroup to oppose the latest franchising effort.

NSWMA's workgroup decided to involve the public through a two-step campaign. First, cards were mailed to residents explaining the city's move toward franchising. Residents were asked to return response cards telling city council members not to consider franchising.

Second, advertising in area newspapers asked the public to contact city leaders and oppose franchising. The advertisements explained that if franchising were allowed, residents would lose the right to choose their own trash service and would run local trash companies out of business, which would have an impact on other local businesses. Additionally, maintaining a system of multiple haulers keeps rates competitive.

The campaign also asked residents to consider other franchised services, such as cable television and electricity, and whether they were satisfied with the level of control they had over their service.

The problem started for the city when its landfill was closed in October 2001 as a result of leachate leakage into the groundwater. The closure meant that less enterprise funds for recycling and drop-off sites were available. Knowing that the landfill would close, in 1998, Sedgwick County, which includes Wichita, entered into nonexclusive contracts with haulers that would expire in October 2007. Those contracts included a “freedom of choice” policy for city residents. Private waste companies invested heavily to meet the needs of the contracts: haulers ramped up their services and purchased new equipment; and transfer stations were improved.

The NSWMA's campaign paid off. Council members received more than 6,000 response cards. The cards along with e-mails and telephone calls forced the city council end debate on the issue. The response was so overwhelming that the mayor announced that he was shutting down city phone lines so the city could conduct regular business.

One thing became clear in the campaign: Residents are loyal to their haulers. In return for loyalty, customers receive personalized services, such as collecting waste from the porch of an elderly resident who has difficulty walking to the curb.

Local officials often believe that if the government arranges for trash collection, the public will pay more attention to the costs of disposal and illegal dumping and will work harder to reduce the waste they generate. They claim that residents change haulers continually without paying bills and that franchising will reduce wear and tear on highways.

The reality is that people who want to break the law by not paying for services will either find a way to do so or will be caught. The needs of local residents should not be set aside to catch up with lawbreakers nor should law-abiding, small haulers be put out of business to prevent lawbreaking by the few.

City officials are correct to think that people will pay closer attention to the costs of disposal because when franchising results in higher collection bills, customers will demand to know why.

Additionally, garbage haulers should not be singled-out as the cause of wear on local highways. Many industries rely on trucking from local delivery trucks to construction vehicles. Local governments have not broached the subject of franchising with these industries.

For more information on NSWMA activities in Kansas and the Midwest, contact Peggy Macenas, toll-free at (800) 679-6269 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Alice Jacobsohn is director of public relations and industry research at the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].