Sadness about competition

Curbside trasn canThere are too many trash companies in Denver. In the old days, the city would have picked up our trash. These days, there are about ten companies to choose from. The upside is that it keeps the cost down for those who have to pay for the service, such as myself. But there are many downsides:

– There is way more needed infrastructure. Every company needs its own fleet of trucks. Every company needs their own offices.

– There is way more pollution. Each of the ten trash companies that makes a pass through my neighborhood has ten trucks that drive by each week. There used to be one.

– There are five days of noise, rather than one.

– There are cans at the curb five days a week, rather than one.

– “Having so many trash companies provides more jobs.” That is true in the same way that having ten people on a road crew so that six can stand by and watch four work provides more jobs.

We changed trash services recently over two issues, even though we had used the same company for at least five years:

1. We care for humans. Our old company did not have trucks that could empty the cans; the guys had to lift them up to empty them. I always felt bad for their backs. So now, at least there is one less set of cans for them to empty.

2. Price. Yes, we are paying less now – due to competition.

Finally, please understand that I am not saying competition is bad in every case. It’s just bad in this case and situations similar to this.


5 Replies to “Sadness about competition”

  1. Hi Paul!

    Having five trash days in the neighborhood would be really annoying! Why not get people together and petition the city to pass an ordinance designating a specific trash day or two for each neighborhood?

    I’m afraid I have to take issue with your first point, about the infrastructure. This is what business is about – any given company setting up offices, executives, staff, factories, delivery trucks, etc., etc. In effect, you’re saying there shouldn’t be multiple restaurants, or multiple clothing stores, or multiple supermarkets, because each one needs it’s own infrastructure. Competition does have some downsides – I admit I’m glad I don’t have to decide between ten different trash companies! But I think the advantages far outweigh those downsides. And I don’t see why the waste industry would be any different than other industries.

    I’m also not sure your point about more jobs is entirely valid. None of those ten companies will be doing the same amount of work as if they were the only one. Each trash company theoretically picks up only 1/10 of the trash, so while altogether they probably employ more people than if there were just one trash company, each company’s staff is limited because their customer base is small. Meaning that if one company did all the trash pickup, they might employ, say, 100 people. But with 10 companies each picking up 1/10 the trash, altogether they might only employ 150 people. And the need to be competitive with nine other companies will prevent them from hiring extra people to stand around watching other people work.

    My two cents!


  2. Debbie, thanks for your perspective. I also thought about the infrastructure, in terms of my mention, which was kind of simplistic. If there were one provider, it would cut the infrastructure in half, maybe – not by a factor of ten, as I might have implied. But there would still be a significant reduction in unnecessary infrastructure.

    As far as competition and the restaurant analogy, I like variety in restaurants, so competition is a completely good thing. But it makes no difference to me who picks my trash up, as long as they treat their employees well and do a good job. Maybe competition keeps it that way! (When I switched recently, I spoke to the customer service representative from the old company and made it very clear of the “lifting heavy cans” issue that was one of my reasons for switching. Maybe that will cause them to consider a more humane system, though I doubt it.)

  3. I have a friend who worked as a trash collector for a while. He said it kept him in the best shape of his life. (He’s now 60 and quite obese.) I wonder how frequent back problems are for trash collectors. I do know it’s a hazardous jobs; getting hit by a car or the truck itself is a big risk.

  4. p.s. A friend brought this to my attention – I should make it clear that there are not ten companies who serve our neighborhood. There are somewhere between 4-7. But that seems like ten to me.

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