Meet "Big Trash"

Over the long run, keeping stuff like tree limbs and compostable waste out of landfills is good for cities. There's only so much space in a landfill and getting more land is extremely expensive. So why haven't more cities hopped on the curbside composting bandwagon, or at least banned yard waste from landfills? There's probably a lot of factors that go into those decisions, but one, apparently, is the influence of large, private companies that handle waste collection and see the diversion of re-usable waste as a detriment to their income. (Via Chris Tackett)


  1. I recently moved somewhere where I have to privately contract for trash pickup, rather than pay for it through the municipality, and it is just reDICULOUS. So far, I haven’t found a single provider that offers the sort of service I’m looking for.

    Sure, they’re happy to charge you an arm-and-a-leg to pick up a 96-gallon bin twice a week, but seem incapable of understanding why someone might only produce a fraction of that amount of trash and need pickups more like once every two weeks and a much smaller bin.

    1. I too recently moved to Central NJ and have negotiate only once weekly pick-ups, much to their dismay.  I set out a small container, usually half-full, once a week while my neighbors bring out 2 large bins twice a week.  Makes so little sense in 2012 really…

    2. Trash pick-up is mandated by law because, if it weren’t, an upsettingly large segment of the population would just dump it in their yards.  I fill about one small kitchen bag every two weeks, but I’m willing to go along with subsidizing my neighbors if the alternative is mountains of rat-infested garbage.

  2. A family member of mine works for Waste Management.  As I recall, they own all (or mostly all) of their own landfills.  They are all about recycling mainly because it lowers their costs.  I was surprised to learn that they don’t like recycling because they can sell the recycled metal, glass, and paper for profit, they like it because its cheaper to recycle than use valuable landfill space.

    In fact, the district she works for does do glass recycling.  Why? Because there is no glass recycling plant close enough to that city to make it profitable to transport glass to (glass is too heavy).  Which might mean there is an opportunity to startup a glass-recycling plant in Arkansas.

  3. Don’t discount the influence of homeowners’ associations and neighborhood beautification advocates. A lot of them are heartily offended by piles of yard debris in front of people’s homes; they want that stuff contained. Of course, there are solutions to that dilemma: bag it or have designated containers. But I’ve come across that kind of opposition out where I live. (For the record, my laissez-faire neighborhood allows big piles of yard debris, which get picked up weekly by a cool truck w/ a grabber.)

  4. I remember college professors asserting that “In New York City, if you inquire too closely into waste disposal, you become part of the waste disposal.”  This was back in the mid-1980s.

    The professors in question taught Land Use Ecology;  their names escape me, which is perhaps just as well.

    In brief:    waste disposal is an organized criminal operation on the Eastern Seaboard.   

    According to my profs, Bad Things happen under this business model, e.g. disposing of toxic chemical waste by mixing it with dirt which is sold for lawn soil.

    1. “There’s no such thing as the Mafia” is also a popular saying in areas where there’s a Mafia presence.

    2. In NYC it seems that there is no way to report a private carting company who breaks the law by dumping recyclables and garbage in the same truck.  I tried.

  5. In Omaha a company called Waste Management got the recycling contract despite objections that they had multiple felony convictions for price-fixing.  The same company had the contract to run the landfill—for a higher rate per ton than they got paid for recyclables.  No one was surprised that within days of starting the program, truckloads of recyclables were photographed being dumped at the landfill.

    If you involve for-profit companies in the system, the system is going to end up serving the needs of those companies and not necessarily the needs of the public. 

  6. Landfill costs are around $40-120/ton, comparable with other carbon sequestration and CO2 avoidance methods.  

  7. When you drive East on HWY 9, in Norman, OK, you will most likely smell our city compost. It smells fucking TERRIBLE. We all put up with it: cause; One, not many people live out where it is (and rarely are downwind); Two, it’s made of the city’s yard waste, and is given out for free, if you load it yourself. If you need them to load it for you, it’s a WHOLE $10 per ton!

    1. They’re doing something wrong because compost shouldn’t have a strong odor.  Are they accepting food waste other than fruit/veg?  I drive by my city’s very large compost operation (takes up 20-30 acres of space) daily and never smell it.  I do, however, smell the trash transfer station and the maneur from an upwind farmer’s field.

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