Internalizing a Trash Externality
Jon Murphy’s post this morning reminded me of a job I had when I was 12 or 13 in which I helped internalize what otherwise would have been an externality. I posted about it briefly here, but I’ll say more.
The house I lived in in Carman, Manitoba was on a busy highway about 1/4 mile from Syl’s Drive Inn. Don’t ask me why it it’s called “Inn” instead of “In.” I remember it as having one n in the 1960s, but my my memory may be imperfect. The Drive Inn, which opened in April each year and closed in October, was owned by Quentin Sylvester. It served chips (our word for French fries), hamburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes, soft ice cream cones, and pop (our word for sodas.)
There was one nasty problem: some customers, after eating in their cars, would throw their garbage on the road. Either Quentin Sylvester was a very observant man or he got complaints from residents nearby. Either way, he came up with a solution: hire someone to clean the streets of garbage for about 3 blocks towards downtown from the drive-in. He came to me and offered me 50 cents per day to come to his drive in early in the morning (about 6:30 a.m.), clean the area on his property and burn the trash, and then scour the street (highway) for garbage over those 3 blocks. I accepted. (Many years later, I introduced my daughter to Syl and told her about how much I had been paid. He told me that he would have been willing to bargain to 75 cents. Damn!)
Although I didn’t keep close track, my guess is that the trash over those 3 blocks was over 80 percent of the trash that customers dumped off-site.
By the way, I have a vague recall (although it is vague) that after a few weeks of doing this, I realized that it wasn’t much bother to pick up other trash that clearly wasn’t from Syl’s. There wasn’t much of it. I didn’t pick up icky cigarette butts though.