Multijurisdictional cooperation in municipal solid waste management

Abstract

This study examines the decision of local governments to conduct municipal solid waste (MSW) planning and management independently or cooperatively. First, the research develops a theoretical framework in which the decision process of local governments may be examined, drawing upon economic theory as well as other social science disciplines. According to the theoretical model developed, a governmental unit first selects optimal levels of choice characteristics, conditioned upon own characteristics, that maximize utility. The unit then compares the resulting optimal utility to utility levels achievable with alternative feasible arrangements for provision of MSW planning and management, to select the feasible arrangement that minimizes the difference from optimal utility. If the optimal feasible strategy involves multijurisdictional cooperation and the same outcome is not selected as optimal by all potential cooperating partners, then the unit must engage in a negotiation process to achieve an outcome that maximizes utility of all participants simultaneously. This theory is then examined using data from Tennessee, where recent legislation required all counties to form either a single or multi-county solid waste region. The legislation also established a minimum service level for MSW services, and required all regions to develop a comprehensive plan for meeting minimum service level restrictions. First, regionalization decisions and the resulting management of MSW are examined through five in-depth case studies of solid waste regions in Tennessee. Results of the case studies indicate that cooperation in the management of MSW is facilitated when potential operational cost savings due to economies of scale in disposal are not only available, but also effectively communicated and widely accepted. Cooperation is also facilitated by a reduction in transaction costs which can be achieved through past cooperative efforts, presence of a cooperation entrepreneur, institutional arrangements that serve as a cooperation cornerstone, the type of bond creating the region, and some private sector influences. Other factors that heavily influence decisions and outcomes are the autonomy risk and political risk associated (or perceived to be associated) with cooperation. Finally, the degree to which a service level constraint or budget constraint is binding influences cooperation decisions. The theory and case studies then contributed toward development of statistical models designed to predict the decision Tennessee counties made in 1991 regarding solid waste region formation. The models showed that multi-county cooperation was more likely to be observed if neighboring counties had a low population, the county and its neighbors were more urban, the county had a large county commission, the county currently managed a small percentage of its generated waste, and the county did not have a Subtitle D landfill or firm plans to construct a Subtitle D landfill. The model predicted the outcome with 72% accuracy, and by far, the most significant influence on the decision was the presence of a Subtitle D landfill

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