Privatization Can Have ‘Trashy’ Consequences for the Public

October 4, 2016

A new study into the effects of diesel emissions emitted by garbage trucks in North Brooklyn and the South Bronx may have a lot of New Yorkers crying foul, and not just because of the smell.

The study, commissioned by Transform Don’t Trash NYC (of which Teamsters Joint Council 16 sits on the steering committee) found that because of the routing of private waste companies, toxic diesel emissions in the two (predominantly lower-income) neighborhoods studied were five to seven times higher than the city average, putting the residents of these communities at higher risk for respiratory ailments. The study also found that the drivers of these trucks are also at a greater risk for health issues resulting from prolonged exposure to diesel fumes.

While the findings of the study are certainly disturbing, they shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, since this sort of thing is a common result of privatization. In fact, whenever private industry creates a burden that society has to shoulder, they have a phrase for it: externalities.

Americans have seen externalities caused by the privatization of other public services: the growth of private prisons has led to an increase in violence in correctional institutions, and correctional officers in private institutions are often paid way below a living wage. In Texas, outsourcing to a private company led to children being kicked off their health insurance. In Boston, outsourcing of a construction project to a private company led to a tunnel collapse that killed a passenger on a highway. The list goes on and on.

Why are there so many problems with privatization, you ask? Well, it’s quite simple: profit-driven endeavors have less of an incentive to increase transparency, accountability and regulatory rigor.

As long as government continues to sell off public utilities to profit-driven corporations, communities will continue to be stuck taking out the trash as the companies that run these services put the social costs associated with them outside the realm of their own responsibility.

Labor and environmental concerns will always fall by the wayside in favor of increasing quarterly earnings, which is why there should never be a profit motive in public utilities to begin with. Having public services internally managed limits externalities and that gives everybody, including those in NYC’s hardest-hit communities, plenty of breathing room.