The Broomfield City Council is again trying to “socialize” trash collection; we better not fall for it. Past councils tried and were repelled by public opinion. Their reasons include fewer trucks on the street, less noise, safety of children and pets, etc.; I’ve written against this absurdity since 2004. This latest intrusion is justified on the altar of “zero waste.” There are two issues: (1) city takeover of a now private marketplace, and (2) the dream of total recycling (wishcycling).
Council opted against a ballot initiative because such measures were declined elsewhere; i.e., they are afraid to ask voters. Yet, they insist everyone they talk to agrees with them! They chose the ordinance path; we are so stupid it must be rammed down our throats like a toddler getting Tylenol. More condescending and insulting is their plan to “educate” us.
I support free markets and small government, whose role is not to control us but to provide public goods such as first responders, courts, etc. I spent 40 years as a scientist in government laboratories working with countless government agencies. I have never seen government function better than the private sector, especially in picking winners and losers. The expression Beltway Bandit is familiar, applicable at all levels.
Imposition of a monopoly will neither be more efficient nor cost effective. Don’t be fooled by the patronizing desire to “educate” you. No monopoly is better than the free market. I can fire my trash hauler anytime and they know it. With a government chosen monopoly, we have to accept whatever passes for service. Incrementally, government usurps roles handled by the private sector to amass more power, exactly what is intended here.
The second issue is more insidious: who can oppose “zero-waste?” It’s like opposing puppies. But while a beautiful idea it’s not reality. Recycling is good and humans have done it for 2,000-plus years before activists, city councils and politicians. Let’s understand what recycling is and isn’t. Despite city council’s “education,” it’s more than sorting garbage into categories. Recycling only occurs when something you don’t want is transformed into something that you or someone else wants, shown by a willingness to buy and use it. This doesn’t involve magic, it involves processing, which may be facile or difficult, inexpensive or costly, and always requires energy. In order to be successful, it must (1) stem from a market demand, (2) be based on sound engineering, and (3) not require subsidy unless strategic to security. Without market demand, sound engineering, and autonomous economic viability, recycling will result in some combination of greater energy usage, lower productivity, a lower standard of living and more pollution!
U.S. paper recycling was 68% in 2021 with market-driven growth requiring no meddling. If government mandated a 100% rate, paper recycling would collapse because of lack of equipment and chemicals, especially sufficient water. And, while advocates insist that paper can be recycled up to seven times, insiders know the number is closer to one to three times due to fiber degradation. Steel is highly recycled already with structural steel 93% recycled, and 75% of the aluminum ever produced still in use today, all because of the marketplace. As with most things, ramping up will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Plastics recycling transcends politics and “visionaries.” Mechanical recycling is grinding and remelting into a stream for molding, but only a few types (out of thousands) of plastics can be so reprocessed. Enter chemical plastic recycling 15-20 years ago: chemically process any plastic into liquid fuel or resin. I understand this first hand, having invented fluid measurement metrology in 2006 that has been used on nearly all liquid fuels and reclaimed products. Chemical recycling of waste plastics has been an unmitigated disaster, resulting in product streams with far worse properties than virgin feedstocks. We are nowhere near a zero-waste approach to plastics imposition of monopoly trash service notwithstanding.
Composting of food waste via monopoly carrier is a nutty idea. Many already compost with no government meddling. Even Bernie Sanders’ Vermont only meddles when a location produces more than a ton per week! And, I doubt with inflation the highest in 50 years many folks are tossing fruits and veggies when they get a bit limp. Private compost services are available. No government chosen monopoly is needed.
Recycling is a good thing humans have done throughout their existence. It will increase as processes and markets expand. It can’t be forced by a vote of any city council. On the other hand, government enforced monopolies are never good and must be rejected.
Thomas J. Bruno is a retired scientist and Broomfield resident.
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