Monday, January 28, 2008

A Brief Aside

Okay, so prompted by several comments, i wanted to mention an idea I've been chewing on. Like Amy and Missy, I've been more aware of the amount of waste we produce. We recycle, as do most folks on our street and that's wonderful. But everyone of us fills up the large city issue trash cans each week.

I think that if there were no landfill, and each person had to keep their garbage on their own property (much like it would've been in the not too distant past) we would all be a lot more sensitive about the waste we produce. But as it is now, I'm basically throwing my trash into someone else's backyard. Out of sight, out of mind.

Practically speaking, i think landfills are a necessity. I just don't see any practical way around them. But I think the city could do a better job of making us aware of the impact of our waste. They can't make me keep it in my back yard, but they can hit me in my wallet. We already pay a flat fee for trash removal. Why not charge us per pound of trash? The city already uses a mechanical arm to lift the trash into the truck. I don't think it would be too hard to add a mechanism to weigh the refuse and a computer to track the address.

Now, I'm generally not for motivating people in this manner. In fact it's a little self-centered and pragmatic. I would prefer that my heart be persuaded more by faith and conviction than by a little greed. But when we talk about instituting policies that govern a society, I'm all for a little prudent manipulation.

Think about it. If you new you could reduce your trash bill $10 a month by composting, recycling more and by buying products that used less packaging, wouldn't you?
I find it hard to believe that such a simple idea hasn't been proposed and even implemented in other communities. Please tell me if it has and how it has fared.

Still working on Part II


TwoSquareMeals said...

It sounds good, but I think it would just burden the poor in our society. Most people wouldn't mind paying an extra $10 a month in order not to deal with the hassle. Ever read that part in Freakonomics about the daycare that charged for late pickups? People saw it as extra babysitting and started coming consistently late. Unless an exorbitant amount was charged, people would see it as a pass to fill up more than just their city-issued garbage cans each week.

Julie said...

John's brother lives in Germany and the Germans are oh-so-picky about garbage, recycling, composting, etc. If we were charged per pound you better believe I'd reduce, reuse & recycle.

Doug said...

I'm not sure i understand how it would be a burden on the poor. I have wondered if it would, but i can't wrap my mind around it. So when 2 square meals said that, i wanted to get more thoughts on it. Everyone in my city pays roughly 20 bucks a month already on trash pickup. If the city set that as the baseline cost for roughly a full can of trash (and didn't allow more without exorbitant cost), I can't see how it would burden one segment of the population more than another.

Since everyone is already paying or the service, it seems to provide opportunity to lessen your payout.

I know I could be missing something here, so please respond with thoughts. Part of my keen interest in this is that i'll have the opportunity to question the city mayor and sanitation head this week. If I do, I want to do so intelligently.

Amy Weber said...


Yes, we would definitely think differently about our trash if we had to pay for it or if we had to leave it in our own yard. A student at CofC went on a service learning trip to Vietnam over Christmas and one of the most striking things to her was the waste in one small village. There was no magic trash truck that came by weekly to everyone's hut that would take their trash out of their sight, out of their community. Instead, there were several very large piles of trash surrounding the outside of the village. It is a privilege that we get our trash taken away, and I don't often think of that.

As far as a creative use of landfills, have you ever heard of Mt. Trashmore? It is a park in Virginia Beach that sits on top of a mountain of trash (hence, the name). When Willis first told me of this, I thought it was a joke. But after visiting there many times, I have come to really appreciate this place -- it is for real!

Check out a picture of it here:

(Yes, they used to let people fish and swim in the lake next to the landfill, until they finally realized that the water was really contaminated...)

Amy Weber said...

One more thought specifically on weighing trash...

There are different types of trash. Might some waste be worse than other waste? Some "heavier" trash might actually be "better" for the landfill than light trash. I thinking of a banana peel vs. a styrofoam cup.

But I guess if I was having to pay for weight, I would just try to create less waste in general. Or be more creative in how I got rid of waste. Maybe I'd use the garbage disposal more. Or try to take my trash to some big dumpster behind a store. I know that would be bad, but I'm just being honest.

So, there's some more of my thoughts.

Missy said...

I don't think I can add anything to the discussion about weighing trash, but I agree that a little well-placed pragmatism to push a society used to wild consumption to limit itself could be quite effective.

I talk about this as a win-win-- pointing out to people how they can do something good for the environment and benefit their wallet too. Change your light bulbs, your power bill goes down. Hang even some clothes to dry and your power bill goes down and your clothes last longer. Drive less and spend less on gas.

This is not the deep seated creation care that we would hopefully all operate out of, but it is an effective tool to get some conserving practices rolling.

Anonymous said...

Doug, I thought you might like this article

I would love to pay by weight. We compost and recycle and buy very little new (less packaging) so our trash wouldn't weigh as much as most. Now, if I could only figure out a way to convert to cloth diapers.

Doug said...

Nina, interesting article. I had no idea countries / cities were moving toward taxing plastic bags. But, i'm not surprised.

This past week, I had the opportunity to ask our city's Director of Public Works about Pay as you Throw-Away. He said that it's problematic b/c weight is not the issue for landfills...volume is. Amy pointed out something along those lines. He went on to say that volume is hard to enforce b/c consumers are able to use devices (trash compactors or feet) to fit 60 gallons of trash into a 30 gallon bag.

Those seem like minor reasons as i've seen studies that indicate many locales have been able to deal with such issues.

He did indicate what seems like a bigger is cheap here. In the Northeast and Northwest where pay as you throw-away programs are more common, landfills are much more expensive and so governments look more actively for ways to reduce volume.

So, i guess our city will wait until it can't afford the weight.