Local Government

Government Waste Monopoly Pits Private Dumpster Business Against Garbage Bureaucrats

Steven Hedrick rents out roll-off dumpsters to people and hauls them away after. A new city ordinance is mandating that people use county services instead.


Last year, an Arkansas town adopted an ordinance requiring that all residents use county services for all trash and waste pickup. It's ruining the livelihood of one local business owner.

Steven Hedrick lives in Carroll County in Arkansas's northwest corner. He worked in construction his whole life but had no retirement plan. So in 2020, after thinking about it for several years, he sold some personal possessions, cleaned out his savings, and started a new business: roll-off dumpsters.

"It's the same as the dumpsters you'd see at construction sites, but it's a smaller version of that," Hedrick told Reason. "We have so many small communities and rural dirt roads and lake homes, hard-to-get-to places. So I thought it would be really filling a void…to be able to get into these rural areas where no one else can." He moved very meticulously, buying one dumpster at a time so as never to go into debt. And things went well: The business grew even through the pandemic, and earlier this year, he purchased his seventh dumpster.

Then in April 2022, the City Council in Holiday Island passed Ordinance 2022-004, which required all residents and businesses within the city to contract with the county sanitation authority, Carroll County Solid Waste (CCSW), for trash pickup and disposal services. Anyone using private companies would have to switch, and anyone who did not have contracted trash service would have to sign up. In a blog post after the vote, Mayor Dan Kees wrote that the mandatory use of one exclusive provider was necessary "in order to mitigate the growing problem of illegal dumping in Holiday Island," as "the City does not have the resources to supervise the operations of several other haulers."

"I don't classify as a trash collector," Hedrick said, because "I don't collect it. I rent dumpsters, and I'll haul off whatever you put in it." But the city said the ordinance did apply to him. Hedrick protested that he's licensed by CCSW to operate in the first place: "I bring my waste to the exact same place…where Carroll County trash collection brings theirs. I'm licensed, and they have to make sure that I have the proper insurance and equipment."

Hedrick says he even asked city officials to clarify what types of hauling were appropriate or not: A "roofer or carpenter could rent a trailer" to haul off old roofing or flooring, "but not a dumpster from me," because they're contractors, not trash collectors. (City officials did not reply to Reason's emails requesting comment; an email to Mayor Dan Kees returned an autoreply that he is on vacation.)

In September 2022, after the ordinance went into effect, Kees wrote in a blog post, "Even though the decision was not a popular one for many residents, most of the people that were using [private trash collectors] have made the switch." He also complained about the people who had yet to sign up, "Hopefully people will come to realize that being 'the resistance' does not make them good community members. It only adds cost for all of those who willingly comply."

Hedrick has stayed afloat by taking jobs elsewhere in the county, but he has noticed a considerable decline in business by not operating in Holiday Island. "As of right now, I turn down at least two or three jobs a week" in the city, he says. And "when it's bigger places like realtors or insurance companies or contractors, yeah, I turned them down once. [But] there's no telling how much business I lost because they're not calling back for the second time or third time."

And there's a further, more demoralizing aspect to the story. "Every customer that calls now, I don't only have to turn them down. Because the next question will be, well, who can do it? I still have a moral obligation to tell them to call my competitor, Carroll County."

But "Carroll County is not prompt with their deliveries," Hedrick says. Holiday Island is a popular spot for vacation homes and retirees, and "I get customers that are in town just for the weekend…or someone died and the family is trying to get together to clean up the house," and "they don't have a lot of time to spare…and they didn't think it would be a major deal to try to get a dumpster."

"The Arkansas Constitution…has an explicit prohibition on the granting of monopolies," says Adam Shelton, a staff attorney for the Goldwater Institute, a free market public policy and litigation organization. Last month, Shelton sent Kees a demand letter asking the city to amend the ordinance "to allow individuals to provide supplemental waste disposal services to the people of Holiday Island."

Shelton tells Reason, "There are certain situations where the government, for health or safety reasons, can…pass a law that says everyone has to contract with X person for the periodic disposal of their solid waste…. But what the government can't do is say that that person has the exclusive right to collect all solid waste, and no other individual or no other business entity can collect solid waste in the city."