This chapter seeks to identify the role of social capital in the private, community-based provision of a public good, in this case, trash collection. The community aspect is vitally important because trash collection involves positive externalities that lead to limited incentives for individual action. Trash collection is also an activity in which collective action is warranted because individual action does not have much impact. Why are some communities better able to organize themselves for the collective good than others? Given the same impetus, what community characteristics lead to activism in some neighborhoods and not in others?
The garbage collection system in Dhaka, Bangladesh, involves municipal pick-up from large dumpsters placed in central areas, with municipal workers responsible for collecting trash from smaller dumpsters located in alleys and side streets and transporting it to the main dumpsters. However, municipal employees are unreliable and frequently fail to collect the trash on a regular basis. In response, some communities, funded by voluntary contributions from community members, have hired private contractors to undertake local trash collection. Other, apparently similar, neighborhoods have not managed to successfully organize an alternative to the municipal service. Why have some communities or neighborhoods displayed such initiative while others have not?
We conjecture that “social capital,” which we equate with community cohesiveness, is a critical determinant of such collective action. The cohesiveness of the community is, in turn, a function of factors such as customary or traditional interactions and institutions, a common heritage, values, and ethnic or religious background.