Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. If you're an elected official, political operative or anyone else upset at his views, don't go bothering LSUS or LSU System officials about that because these are his own views solely.
This publishes Sunday through Thursday with the exception of 7 holidays. Also check out his Louisiana Legislature Log especially during legislative sessions (in "Louisiana Politics Blog Roll" below).
Now about two years after its full implementation, the most accurate statement about Shreveport’s curbside recycling program is the resources it transfers away from the city’s landfill is less than and will soon be dwarfed by the transfer of resources it forces from the wealth of the city’s residents.
In the May, 2008, Mayor Cedric Glover, with the unanimous support of the City Council, announced this initiative. Not only did he tout the environmentally-friendly aspect of it all and that it would divert some materials from going into the city’s landfill, but also he claimed it would become an economic development tool as at the Port of Shreveport-Bossier said it attracted Pratt Industries to it in part because it would recycle these paper products from the city. By August, 2008 the program was in full swing and the Pratt facility opened in the fall of 2009.
One would think that the savings from a longer landfill life and ability to sell recyclable materials to the private sector would allow the program to pay for itself. One would assume that city government would not add an entirely new function to itself that did not address basic common needs and dealt with public goods (such as roads, parks, public safety, etc.) unless this luxury raised more revenues than the costs it imposed less those it could reduce elsewhere. But to think that one would have to discount the big-government-knows-best ideology to which Glover adheres and the Council slavishly followed.
In order to start the program, the city purchased 66,000 units in which any recyclable waste could be placed that would be collected separately from regular waste, at a cost of $3 million. Because of wear and tear these would have to be replaced eventually. If this fixed cost were the only cost to the taxpayer the effort might have a chance to recoup the investment if households embraced the program.
But looking at the numbers shows this is not case. The city claims 12,980 tons have been recycled in the first 18 months of the program or an average of about 721 tons a month, with a participation rate of 35 percent. At this pace, this means that recycling diverts from the landfill, at an average of 7,965 total tons per month (taken from August through November, 2007 figures) for the baseline without it, only nine percent of total waste. At a pre-recycling estimated lifespan in 2008 of 17 years (55 percent of capacity remaining), this increases through recycling by only 20 months.
Besides only marginally extending the life of the landfill which will cost perhaps tens of millions of dollars to replace and/or push back escalation of fees for usage, current landfill fees over the 18 months presumed saved by the program were $313,986 or about $17,444 a month. This would mean that if that pace remains the same it would take an additional 13 years for saved landfill fees just to pay off the initial investment into the containers – past the expected life of them.
There also is another opportunity cost as the program removes recyclables from the private marketplace. In essence, the program, by making disposal easier by giving materials to government, creates disincentives for them to be available for private sector recyclers, depressing the local industry and costing jobs and tax revenues. One could argue that this could create a revenue stream for the citizenry by the city’s sales of the materials – even in an environment where the prices for recyclables from any source have plunged – and thus reduce losses to taxpayers as a whole, if that’s all there was to it.
But it’s not. Worst of all, starting in 2011 the city will start charging $2.50 a month for households to pay for the service, compulsorily and regardless of whether it’s used. And on top of this is the $49 minimum charged for voluntary nonresidential pickup. In other words, nearly $2 million a year (assuming the same 66,000 households) will be taken forcibly from ratepayers and sloshed into city coffers, plus whatever nonresidential concerns will pay willingly.
Which reveals the ultimate crassness of the program. It does not come close to paying for itself and additionally, beginning next year, will become an excuse to feed government’s appetite for more money, it forces a cost-ineffective environmentalism agenda into city policy, it makes government at the expense of the private sector the locus of economic development, and it perhaps also exists to prop up the political fortunes of the Port and its Shreveport-based Glover-appointed commissioners.
The only benefit to this wasteful program is that it makes some people feel like they “care” about the environment and they or others feel good about big government. Everything else quantifiable comes to a net cost for taxpayers and much more soon for ratepayers. If people want to recycle they should be left alone by government to do it, not have their resources used coercively to implement a state-run plan.
Some on the council assert they are against wasteful spending and big government and for free enterprise leading economic development. Some are running for reelection or for higher office, and others are running for the Council who not only don't want to reverse this, but to expand it. If sensible candidates are honest about their publicly-articulated ideology, they need to make a campaign issue of ending this boondoggle.