Minnesota Can “Thieves”

“Sweet … can …” – Homer Simpson

I caught an article the other day about “lost revenues” from aluminum scrappers swiping recyclables before the city-approved truck gets there: “Snatching Your Neighbor’s Recycling in Mpls? That’s Illegal.” The article claims that the city of Minneapolis is losing $135,000 a year because of these snatchers.

Times are tough, you see. Some enterprising scrappers have found that they can make some extra $$ if they just find the unwanted scrap aluminum that people leave in their recyclable containers and take it to the recycling center themselves. My guess is that the locals don’t mind at all. You know, hungry people, willing to work, coming by and making use of something you’re throwing away … what’s not to love? Apparently the city doesn’t love the fact that it’s supposed monopoly on household scrap aluminum has been threatened. (And why wouldn’t they? $135,000 is a nice piece of change.)

The story reminded me of an article Mish had a few years  back: “Trash Collecting Entrepreneur Squashed in San Francisco.” In that case a gentleman refused to pay the $37/can/week trash pickup fee and just took the trash to the dump himself. Soon enough he was taking his neighbor’s trash, and eventually the entire street, charging $10 and managing the separation of recycling as well.

Libertarians have argued for free market interactions in these types of arrangements for some time. In the case of trash collection, privatization would let firms compete and drive down costs. In the case of recycling, the claim has long been that eventually the time would come when it is profitable to recycle – and when that happens you won’t have to convince people to recycle, it will just happen. That time has come, at least for aluminum. In either case, free people can work it out amongst themselves.

This isn’t how the government bureaucrats see it, of course. In the Minneapolis case they cry foul – “it’s a crime for you to go into somebody’s yard to take their [our] recyclables.” In the San Francisco case it was much worse. The city actually claims ownership of your recyclables. You can’t strike a deal with a scrapper.

The flip side of the argument is actually easy to see here. Whether it’s a trash-collecting union, a government bureaucracy, or a large corporate enterprise – when you’ve “played by the rules” and bribed your way into a special relationship, special deal, or special treatment, you don’t want your profits threatened by meddling free-marketers.

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