Sioux Falls trash wars are a waste


image9-3.pngSioux Falls is a ripe city for trash haulers, and that’s not good.

There’s a lot of cash in trash, and the city has a generally laissez-faire attitude toward waste collection.

If you have a set of wheels and meet the city’s requirements, you can offer your services to Sioux Falls residents.

This lax relationship with waste haulers is why Sioux Falls—population 174,000—is home to 21 licensed (and highly competitive) waste haulers, a fairly large number for a city of its size.

Ontario, Calif.—population 173,000—for example, funds only one waste management company.Vancouver, Wash.—population 174,000—contracts only one waste hauler. These cities prove that a city the size of Sioux Falls can survive with one waste hauler.

Some media outlets have labeled the competition between the 21 hauling companies the “Garbage War in Sioux Falls.”

Logic would tell us that this competition between haulers is fairly inefficient for the city and its residents.

Say, for example, four separate households on the same street subscribe to four different trash collection companies.

Every trash day, four trucks drive down the same street to collect one container each, doing in four trips what one company could do in one or two. That’s a lot of wasted fuel.

The trucks also wear and tear the streets quicker because more trucks are passing on the same roads more often.

Stephen Minister an Augustana philosophy professor studying food waste and food ethics, said it makes sense that more trash haulers in a city would create more waste.

“Assuming [the haulers] are competing with each other across the entire city, yeah, you are going to get more trucks on the roads,” Minister said. “Our neighbors, for example, have the same [hauler] as us, but the neighbors diagonal from us have a different hauler. I haven’t paid that much attention, but I imagine that there are probably even more on the street given the sheer amount of waste haulers in the city.”

More garbage trucks in a city also create more noise and traffic congestion, increasing the likelihood of traffic accidents.

Although there’s little evidence in Sioux Falls, specifically, on the efficiency of its trash haulers in terms of costs, other cities have evidence proving that multi-hauler waste collection systems are expensive.

Springfield, Mo.—population 167,000—suffers from a similar situation, but it has recent data to support the city’s concerns.

A study of Springfield’s trash and recycling collection conducted last year found that the competition between the city’s 12 licensed residential haulers cost Springfield residents more than people in similar communities without any added benefits. Haulers do not offer residents recycling, yard waste or bulky item services.

Minister said the increased cost could be attributed to companies losing the economy of scale. Instead of having four trucks picking up one container each, it may be cheaper to send one truck, Minister said.

“If you just have one truck going and getting four containers, then you have four customers in approximately the same time as another hauler is getting one customer,” Minister said.

Waste collection across the nation could improve. Trucks pick up containers on a timed schedule, paying no attention to the capacity of containers. Come every trash day, drivers encounter a few containers completely empty, meaning they drove all the way for no reason.

Sioux Falls, in the future, should attempt to reign in its trash haulers, promoting those which optimize routes. But the city’s primary goal should be to contract one or two haulers. This would reduce waste and extend the life of our streets.

Jacob Knutson is a junior journalism, English, and political science major from Rapid City, S.D.

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