Internalizing a trash externality – Econlib

John Murphy’s post this morning reminded me of a job I had at age 12 or 13 where I helped internally with what would otherwise have been an externality. I posted about it briefly here, but I have more to say.

The house I lived in Carman, Manitoba was on a busy highway about 1/4 mile from Seal’s Drive Inn. Don’t ask me why it’s called “in” instead of “in”. I remember it having an N in the 1960s, but my memory may be incomplete. The drive in, 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 serve ice cream cones and pop (our word for sodas).

There was a nasty problem: some customers, after eating in their cars, would throw their garbage on the street. Either Quentin Sylvester was a very observant man or he received complaints from nearby residents. Either way, he came up with a solution: hire someone to clean up the street litter about 3 blocks from the drive-in toward downtown. He came to me and offered me 50 cents a day to come out to his drive early in the morning (about 6:30am), clean up his property and burn the trash, and then 3 blocks over the street (highway). I accepted. (Many years later, I introduced my daughter to Seal and told her how much I was paid. She told me she was willing to bargain for 75 cents. Damn!)

Although I haven’t kept close track, my guess is that the trash in these 3 blocks was more than 80 percent of the trash that customers dropped off-site.

However, I have a vague memory (though it’s vague) that after a few weeks of doing this, I realized that it wasn’t too annoying to pick up other trash that wasn’t obviously from Seal. It wasn’t much. I didn’t catch a cigarette butt though.

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