EDITORIALS

Pay-as-you-throw is fair, responsible trash management

Posted June 23, 2011, at 9:47 p.m.

Archaeologists often study a culture’s trash for clues to understand its economy and values. What our trash says about us may vary widely depending on how that trash disposal is managed. Towns that don’t charge residents to dump their trash or encourage them to recycle will appear affluent and wasteful to future archaeologists, given the volume and quality of the material they cast off.

Bangor’s city council is poised to change its trash management so it will reflect a frugal, efficient people. The council is expected to vote to implement a pay-as-you-throw system for trash and a single-stream approach to recycling.

Though there has been some resistance to the pay-as-you-throw component, it should be embraced as the only fair and equitable way to assess the cost — and it is a substantial cost — of disposing of trash.

The rationale underlying the fee-for-trash plan is simple. If Mr. Jones buys products with a lot of packaging, fails to make any effort at recycling and therefore produces more pounds of trash than his neighbor Ms. Smith, who purchases mindfully and recycles aggressively, then Ms. Smith is subsidizing Mr. Jones’ bad habits when she pays her property tax.

And beyond the fairness of making the people who produce the most pay more, the fee per bag is a great motivator to encourage recycling. By being vigilant in setting aside newspapers, magazines, catalogues, fiberboard, cardboard, glass, plastic and aluminum — and perhaps composting kitchen waste, if possible — a resident can substantially reduce the amount of trash that must be tossed.

The single-stream recycling component of the plan the Bangor council is likely to adopt helps reluctant recyclers, or those with busy lives who don’t have the time to separate the #2 plastic from the fiberboard. Instead, all recyclables are tossed into a single bin and the commodities are separated by handlers.

Residents have been lulled into a false sense of freedom when it comes to trash. It gets dragged out to the curb, and later in the day the can is empty. Where it goes and what it costs do not weigh heavily on the minds of most. In fact, most municipal trash is trucked to an incinerator company that charges about $60 per ton to dispose of it. That fee may double in several years. What isn’t burned, what doesn’t burn and the leftover ash is trucked to special landfills where it is buried, also at a cost.

Some people suspect a municipality charging for trash disposal is a sneaky way to raise more revenue without raising taxes. It’s actually more like an airline charging more for extra baggage; airplanes burn more fuel when the weight of their payload increases, so it’s only fair to assess that cost to those causing it. The new policy is the right move.

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