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Waste Not, Get Sued

Thursday, January 29, 2009 by Slaughter Development

Eddie House got so good at recycling, composting and reducing his waste that he decided to cancel his garbage service. The official response to his earth-friendly efforts? Sued by local government.

According to The Examiner:

The lawsuit, filed by San Carlos Deputy City Attorney Linda Noeske in San Mateo Superior Court on Jan. 22, seeks a permanent injunction forcing House to maintain garbage service. City officials are also seeking to recoup from House the costs of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims House broke the city’s municipal code requiring all residential, commercial and industrial properties to contract with Allied Waste for pickup at least once a week — a standard requirement in most cities, San Carlos Deputy City Manager Brian Moura said.

The actions of Eddie House might be great for the planet, but not for exclusive, tightly-worded contracts between the city and a private company. Those agreements have no room for individual exceptions. Eddie House might not have been filling his trash bins every week, but the law requires him to keep placing them on the curb.

Of course, the weekly pickup requirement was established for sanitary reasons, not out of greed or an anti-environmental perspective. If most people opted out of regular trash service, they would stink up the neighborhood and might even create a public health hazard. The city code is wise in this regard, unless, of course, you are actively working to generate less garbage.

The case if the lawsuit against Eddie House is another tale of a rigid system responding to an unusual situation by taking the simplest path which maintains that system. The sanctity of the contract between the local government and Allied Waste must be maintained, so when a violation is identified, it cannot be overlooked. Changing the contract to account for individual innovations would require a tremendous amount of work. It is much easier just to require Eddie House to get back into the habit of producing refuse.

Organizations are often so committed to existing agreements, procedures or perspectives that when an interesting exception arises, they react in a way which is comically unfortunate. Organizational change is incredibly hard, and it is always easier to require the outlier to change to fit the mold than it is to understand the motivations, capacities and importance of anyone who wants to be different. If your company or non-profit agency is facing someone like Eddie House or is otherwise burdened with a process that you know does not make sense, contact Slaughter Development. We help organizations to understand and improve their own process to better accommodate change.

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