Cheyenne’s garbage collection controversy is yet another example of how a government’s one-size-fits-all solution fails to solve a problem and limits individual freedom.
The problem started when the Cheyenne City Administration notified all residents that the sanitation department would no longer collect trash from containers in alleys. Instead all residents, except those who lived in one select neighborhood, would be required to place trash containers in front of their house. The City Council rejected a resolution to make this change in service back in 2012 so the administration tried to adopt the change without City Council involvement. The administration argued that the change was an operational, not a political, decision but then reversed course.
Some outraged residents complained to the City Council about the lack of citizen input in the decision, the aesthetic impact of trash containers along historic neighborhood streets, and the hardship some residents would face because properties were not designed to even allow people to move trash containers between the front curb storage locations out of sight from the street. Most significantly for this discussion, some opponents of the new curbside garbage collection said they were willing to pay higher price for garbage collection service using the alley. If the City’s Sanitation Department cannot provide what residents want, then the City should step aside and allow the free market to do its job.
Why can’t residents pay for a service if they want to?
Private businesses already collect trash in communities like Cheyenne. Before I moved back home to Laramie County, Wyoming (population 94,483), I lived in James City County Virginia (population 70,516) where each household selected which private company they wanted for trash pickup. I paid approximately $25 per month. Some of my neighbors used a different company than I did. Most importantly, one size did not fit every household’s needs and the private sector offered fair service at a competitive price. Isn’t this how capitalism and the free market should work? If so, then why not let the free market work here as well?
Wyoming law permits, but does not require, cities and towns to “Purchase, lease or rent land within or without the corporate limits for the deposit of refuse matter, govern the use of the land and make reasonable rules and requirements for hauling refuse.” City governments, like those in Cheyenne and Casper keep a monopolistic stranglehold on residential garbage collection service. This is the problem.
But the City refuses to allow private trash collection services, like those that operate in unincorporated Laramie County and Eastern Laramie County, to serve residents within the city limits. The Cheyenne city code mandates that: “All solid waste accumulated in the city shall be collected, conveyed, and disposed of by the city. No person, other than persons duly authorized by the city, may collect, convey over any of the streets or alleys of the city, or dispose of, any solid waste accumulated in the city, except that a private individual may convey excess solid waste generated at his or her residence to the Happy Jack landfill or to the transfer station…” Casper city government also prevents the private sector from doing its job by reserving “exclusive control for the collection and disposal of residential solid waste within the city limits.”
In spite of the restrictions, both Cheyenne and Casper also demonstrate that private trash collection can and does work effectively. The same law in Cheyenne that prohibits people from hiring a private business to collect household garbage includes an exception that allows commercial (private) haulers to place waste collection roll-off containers within the city limits. Two neighborhoods in Casper, portions of Riverwest and Paradise Valley, are exempt from the Casper trash collection monopoly. These exceptions show that both cities know people are capable of choosing their own private garbage service companies without government mandates.
Cheyenne should allow residents to hire private trash collection companies if those residents want to. Casper and other municipalities that prohibit entrepreneurs from collecting trash should open for business as well. In addition, the Wyoming Legislature needs to protect entrepreneurs from cities and towns that impose government-run monopolies on local residents. Communities all over Wyoming need to let the marketplace do its job. Trash collection is just one example of how Wyoming is closed to business. Individual residents, like those in Cheyenne, suffer the consequences.