The feisty citizens of Westminster recently made it clear that they are adamantly opposed to a city plan to contract with one company for the provision of centralized trash collection as opposed to the current system, where homeowners have a choice of private vendors to haul their garbage.
During a four-hour City Council meeting late last month, residents made plain to the council that they enjoy their current freedom of choice and are determined to keep it, even if it is more expensive. They remained firm in their position that government is not needed in this area. They want to be in charge of their own garbage destiny.
How refreshing to see regular people who are passionately engaged in a local political matter rather than the ceaseless drumbeat of Trump, Trump, Trump, Gardner, Trump. After all, waste management is one of those great municipal issues that directly impact people’s everyday lives, often more so than whoever is currently occupying the White House.
Now, some people may view the whole issue of trash collection as mundane and pedestrian, laughably boring. They take it for granted, giving little thought to the garbage they generate or the people who must haul it away. Garbage out of sight is garbage out of mind.
However, since ancient times, people have struggled mightily with the vexatious question of how to dispose of all the garbage generated by humans. Author Larry VanderLeest speculates that when Adam and Eve were finished eating their apple, they likely wondered what to do with the core.
In 500 B.C., Athens established the first municipal dump, requiring that all trash be taken at least a mile from the city walls. Mayans in Central America burned their rubbish in community-wide monthly rituals. In the mid-1300s, English King Edward III ordered men called “rakers” to remove refuse from streets and alleys once a week. Parisians in the Middle Ages learned the hard way just how important it was to clean up waste when, in 1400, trash piled up so high outside the city gates that enemy soldiers simply scrambled up the massive garbage piles and stormed the city walls.
In the United States, the city of Charleston, W. Va., passed a law in 1834 that protected vultures from being hunted. The birds helped eat the city’s garbage. Small cities often used swine kept in “piggeries” to consume food waste, because 75 pigs could devour a ton of refuse per day.
It’s interesting to note that in the early 1900s, unlike the citizens of Westminster, Chicagoans demanded that officials replace private “cart men” with uniformed garbage collectors employed by the city. In response to their demands, Chicago created a sanitation department. Over the years, this agency grew increasingly costly, bloated and inefficient. It became just another extension of the “Chicago machine, ” a source of political patronage jobs. Currently, there is pressure to privatize the city’s waste management system. Given Chicago’s experience, Westminster residents are wise to be wary of a government takeover of trash collection.
But what is important in Westminster is not so much what happened as how it happened. Last month’s council meeting commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance. Attendees certainly spoke out and made their voices heard, albeit in conversational tones. One resident commented that, while he wanted to live in a home-rule city, he did not want the city to rule his home. Council members were thanked for their time and attention. Speakers at the meeting were not shouted down. No major thoroughfares were blocked. Nobody “made a statement” by burning garbage in the city hall parking lot or hurling trash through shop windows.
The citizens of Westminster have every right to be proud of themselves. These polite, self-controlled grownups have set a shining example of participatory democracy. Political protesters all over the country should follow suit.