KEN MIDKIFF: 'Pay as you throw' trash collection could bolster recycling efforts

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A few years ago, the City of Columbia had an idea about, of all things, trash bags. However, it did involve changes in the way things have been done and, as we all know, change is hard.

The idea: The more trash bags that residents put out for pickup by garbage trucks, the more residents pay. For example, if a resident put out no trash bags for a given week, that resident would not be charged for that week. On the other hand, if another resident put out 10 trash bags, then that resident would be charged for those 10 bags. The idea was that, originally, the person who put out no trash bags was essentially paying for the person who put out 10, and that a “pay as you throw” system rewarded the person with no trash bags and charged the person with 10.

The amount for a filled trash bag was not determined by city staff, but there were speculations.

Those speculations ranged from a few cents per bag to a dollar or more. For various reasons, the proposal was opposed. Some of the opposition was quite reasonable: Many people couldn't afford to be charged more. A valid concern was raised about an additional duty for garbage collectors. Other opposition was just goofy and involved a conspiracy theory: Charging folks for putting out several trash bags was a nefarious government plot. Whatever the reasons, it was opposed and it failed.

One of the ideas by city staff was that charging folks for “pay as you throw” would cause recycling to increase. While this may or may not have been true, it is true that Columbia is near the bottom of all cities when it comes to recycling. The hope was that because recycling is free, and garbage pick-up isn't, citizens would place more paper, bottles and cans into recycling containers rather than placing these items in the trash and then into the landfill. So rather than being near the bottom, Columbia would have a more respectable recycling rate.

No doubt, this issue will reappear in the future. Maybe by then, some sort of plan for poor folks will be devised and some sort of system will be designed to make things a bit easier for garbage collectors. (Nothing will appease those who believe conspiracy theories.) Until then, we will remain near the bottom in the chart of cities' recycling rates and our landfill will continue to be overloaded.

More info: U.S. Recycling rates, Columbia recycling rates and “Pay as you throw.”

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