PROFILE: APWA To Increase Focus On MSW

WW: Will you place more emphasis on the APWA's solid waste division?

WB: Solid wastes have always been and continue to be an im-portant focus for APWA. Not many services within public works attract such personal or emotional reactions from taxpayers than improper waste collection and disposal. Considering how important these issues are to public works professionals, APWA's historic role in solid wastes and my background and interests, it is reasonable to assume that our Institute of Solid Wastes and our board expects to increase APWA's profile in the solid waste area. In fact, I expect to deliver on these expectations.

WW: What is the role of the public sector in solid waste management?

WB: I have worked in both the private and public sectors and it still startles me that this issue is not resolved.

In most communities, the waste collection and disposal services provisions are established by state constitution, statute or local ordinance as a public health function which holds local governments re-sponsible. Options to exercise this responsibility include contracting out, but in most instances there are no provisions for outright abdication of it. This is why the ultimate arbiter of waste services and their method of delivery is, and will continue to be, local government.

This is also why privatization, as it is known in Great Britain, poses no threat in this country. The public sector is, by law, the ultimate authority in the world of MSWM. When government chooses not to provide those services themselves, they serve as regulators for their provision by others, protecting the consumer and their interests. Ei-ther way, there is nothing am-biguous about who is or should be in the driver's seat.

WW: Do you foresee an increasing number of cities and counties turning to private contractors for their waste services?

WB: That may happen, but there is no certainty of it. The future of contracting [to the private sector] depends on how local officials perceive public interest and how de-termined they are to serve the public best. Solid waste planners must distinguish between being responsible for a public service like garbage collection, and being its provider. The two can be one in the same, but need not be.

External forces such as the na-tional economy, shifting citizen priorities and fiscal policies often can overcome the intrinsic merit. These forces have become the fuel in the never ending quest for quality service, productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The public sector successfully competes with the private sector in all these arenas. There is no inherent reason why contracting out should continue to grow, but it will if, depending on local circumstances, public officials find it best for their citizens.

WW: What is APWA's position on flow control?

WB: APWA's position on flow control is pragmatic. Since the courts continue to decide on au-thority, what really remains is how to exercise that authority.

Flow control must remain with local authorities in tune with local conditions. In some cases, flow control is in the public interest; in some cases it is not.

decision makers are in the best position to decide when it is and when it is not. Federal mandates in this context are not only unnecessary but unwise. They are bad public policy because they inhibit local initiative, flexibility ingenuity in both the public and private sectors.

WW: What are the most important issues facing solid waste managers in cities and counties?

WB: Economics rule center stage and will for the foreseeable future despite all the talk about landfill capacity, volume reduction options and quality of life issues. Who is paying, how much and by what method remain the pressing public policy issues of the day for solid waste managers. It is no longer simply a matter of picking garbage up efficiently and putting it down somewhere safe. Today, fiscal issues play as important a role in waste management as environmental protection and good service.

No testimony speaks more eloquently to this proposition than the environmental promise of recycling and its frequently dismal economic performance; the debate over user fees and their social and economic consequences and; the raging argument over flow control. As critical as these matters remain, all are about dollars, not public health or environmental protection. The politics of garbage today are dictated as much by Adam Smith as by quality of life concerns. There seems to be no turning back from this reality.

WW: Which solid waste issues do you think will be important 10 years from now?

WB: If you had asked what would be important five years from now I would have been uncertain about answering; 10 years down the road seems too far to even responsibly guess about. During our national capacity crisis a few years ago, we would have never imagined an abundance of capacity to cause falling prices.

I will hazard a pretty safe guess that the economics of waste are not going to go away. Who pays, at what cost and how will they pay will still be on the top of the list of waste issue 10 years from now.