Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Ok I Guess I Have A Problem With This

So here’s the story. Pittsburgh, PA, and many cities elsewhere in PA, have mandatory recycling laws. What this means is that you must recycle. How do they know? Well they give you a special bag for your recyclables. If you don’t put the bag out, the city feels you must not be in compliance. And they fine you. First fine is $62.50. Second or more violations are $500.00 each. The tender vittles:

Costa said failing to recycle costs the city money. It's paid $11 a ton for glass, cans and plastics and $30 a ton for newspaper, Costa said. Statewide, the average cost to take municipal trash to a landfill is about $57 per ton, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Pittsburgh, like other communities that recycle, also can qualify for performance grants, which help pay for manpower and equipment.

"There's a lot of incentives in there for the city and the residents to recycle as much as they can," Costa said. About 40 percent of city households recycle, he said.

You can read the whole thing here. A few concerns come to mind.

First, with only 40% compliance, the city must be making a lot of money off of fining the 60% over and over.

Second, when I pay my redemption value at the supermarket for various bottles and cans, I think I can reasonably expect that I get that money back when I take the materials to some recycling center. Of course, I don’t really get all of it back. If I look at my grocery store receipt, they give me a nice little total of the crv money I spent, paid on a per can basis. This is not the same amount I get from the recycling center when I turn those same cans in. But at least I get something. But if I live in Pittsburgh and take my cans in, I not only get less, I also have to pay the city for not recycling.

Third, what if I have a compost heap in the back yard, take my cans myself, and don’t have anything left to put in my official city of Pittsburgh recycling bags? I’m still getting fined.

Fourth, the fines seem to be in place because the city is not getting money from recycling centers for turning in the recyclables I already paid a fee for. You say I should care since my taxes go to the city, and therefore when the city loses money I have to pay more taxes. Yeah, except if that were true, I should reasonably expect a tax refund every time I put out my official city of Pittsburgh recycling bags. If I pay more (higher taxes) for not recycling with the official city of Pittsburgh recycling bags (losing the city money) then I should pay less (get a tax refund) for using the official city of Pittsburgh recycling bags (making money for the city).

Fifth, the same holds true for the issue of performance grants.

Sixth, while Costa says there are lots of incentives, he’s only half right. The incentives are all on the city side. They get money for appropriating resident’s recyclables, and they get even more money when they don’t. By the time a resident gets a second fine, he has paid for ten tons of regular garbage. Can one household generate ten tons of trash, recyclable or not? My household has garbage pickup once a week. We are not allowed to put more than forty pounds of garbage in the can. If I multiply that by 52 weeks, I get 2,080 pounds, maximum, just slightly over one ton. I pay just about $10 a month, which works out to approximately $120 per ton. I should add that most weeks I am probably closer to twenty pounds than forty pounds in my trash can. The city has incentives; the citizens only have punishment.

Seventh, can I really be forced to recycle? What if I’m old or have some infirmity that makes trash sorting and multiple trips to the curb difficult, if not impossible? I guess I’m screwed. They made the law and it’s still on the books, so I guess I can be forced. So what if I put one piece of paper in my paper bag, one glass bottle in my glass bag and one soda can in my can bag. Am I safe from being fined, even though I may have read seven newspapers, drank 12 bottles of beer and had 24 cans of soda. In other words, how do they know if I have recycled enough, or maybe I should ask how they would know if I recycled everything I could have recycled. They can’t. Unless they spend way more money than they save on recycling by sorting through everyone’s trash to see if they are in compliance.

Eighth, what if I’m some ultra vegan with a big garden who only drinks tap water. What if I have no recyclables? Do I have to go out and purchase products I wouldn’t normally buy, just so I have something to put in my official city of Pittsburgh recycling bags, so that the city of Pittsburgh doesn’t fine me every week?

I heard that in Germany, they pay for their trash pickup by the kilo, but recyclables are picked up free. Now that’s an incentive for your average citizen. And it really galls me to say that I envy the Germans.

Actual Update: Well I may have shot myself in the foot. I went ahead and passed these comments on to the city through their webpage. They ask for all sorts of info, including email, contact number, etc. Then I shined up my brass ones and called Mr. Costa’s office. A little infiltration of the other side, so to speak. After eight rings, I got the message machine. Dilemma: Since I’m undercover posing as a small paper reporter, what if I give him my number and he notices it’s the same number as on the form from their webpage. I mean I do want him to call me back, right? Second dilemma: If I give him the name of my phony small paper, what if he tries to look it up on the web and sees that it doesn’t exist? I already leave the crappiest answering machine messages on earth, and I’ve gotta think fast. So I gave him the number, and my phony reporter name, but didn’t name my “paper”. We’ll see if either effort gets results.
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