I was in Stop and Shop buying some groceries the other night, when I realized I needed a new Stop and Shop savings card, as the one on my key chain was barely scanable any more. As I waited in line I noticed a sign advertising, "City of Malden Trash Bags."
I was curious about these special trash bags, as they were NOT cheap. They were very expensive. You could buy ten 15 gallon bags for $10. FYI, a 15 gallon trash bag is the size that you would use for your typical kitchen trash can. They also sell the 33 gallon bags. You can buy 10 of those for $20. What a deal.
I asked the young lady behind the counter, " 'Scuse me Miss, what's the deal with those fancy Malden trash bags?"
She informed me that if you live in Malden (the municipality next door to my beautiful city of Revere) that you must throw away all of your garbage in these special bags only, or they would not take your garbage. I was stunned. I found this to be one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard of in my life. I immediately thought of the Payola and pocket lining that was surely going on from this "scam." More on that in a moment.
After leaving the store I recalled seeing my cousin Mark over the holiday season. He owns a two family apartment building in Portland, ME. My memory was then jarred of his tale of the "special blue City of Portland" trash bags. The prices I believe were the same as Malden's prices. Otherwise they were very similar.
All this garbage talk got me thinking. Surely these cannot be the only communities that utilize these trash tossing systems. There must be others. So of course I Googled it. BTW, Google is my new favorite transitive verb. The results of my Googling were interesting.
Apparently there are over 100 communities just in Massachusetts that have some sort of Pay As You Throw (PAYT) program. I also found a town in Edmonton, Canada called St. Albert that has special "tags" placed on the garbage. Their fee structure was based on a sliding scale. One bag and one can of trash costs "x" per week, two bags, and two cans costs, "y" and so forth and so on. Their system has also been in place since 1996.
My initial outrage and skepticism of this program in Malden actually got me thinking and made me realize that these programs are actually a GOOD thing. I know, I know, $1 or $2 per trash bag is NOT a good thing. However the action it requires the resident to take is a good thing. That action is trying to force the hand of the consumer to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Waste disposal costs are increasing and many communities are being forced to pass this cost on to the resident. Since the cost for some areas is now unavoidable i.e. Portland, ME and Malden, MA they can be managed. You can buy fewer trash bags, by recycling more. If your community is hitting you on both sides by charging you for recycling AND trash bags, reform is needed.
In Revere, we recently got new recycling bins from a program called RecycleBank. Our schedule remained the same, however we now have an incentive to recycle and the new bins are HUGE and on wheels. The more we recycle (by weight) the more we qualify for rewards i.e. coupons and gift cards for various local and national vendors. It is fortunately still free to recycle here in Revere, but alas we may soon be moving towards a PAYT system.
Why would I say that? The reason is simple. People are lazy. People still will rather pay for $2 trash bags than take 10 seconds to rinse a tin can, or plastic bottle and set it aside in a separate trash can. I own a three family apartment building. I live on the second floor. My tenants above and below are both good size families, and I know that they recycle some, but not totally. Each week I haul out seven completely full 35 gallon trash cans. Some weeks there is more. I don't sift through their trash, but just from looking at some of the white kitchen bags on my trek to the curb, it is obvious there are cans, glass containers and many corrugated cardboard containers and packages, being tossed away, instead of being recycled.
I have always recycled since the mid 90's when awareness became chic. My years in Breckenridge, CO saw me toting my recycling down to the recycling center on the north side of town in French Creek a couple of times a month. I did this because I could not afford the costly curbside pick up and recycling is something I truly believe in.
There are a few lessons to be learned here. If you currently don't recycle, then shame on you. If you have kids, and you don't recycle and aren't making it part of their daily routine, then double shame on you. It should be as standard as brushing your teeth in the morning and before bed. After all, it's really their world we are all trying to make better isn't it?
I learned to not always think the worst of a situation. Yes, paying $2 for a trash bag sucks, but the ultimate goal of what is trying to be accomplished is what is important. I think some simple information as to WHY these areas are charging for bags needs to be distributed throughout the communities. The only thing many consumers realize is that they are getting poorer by paying to throw things away. They do not realize the problems with landfills being over capacity, is directly related to people not recycling. Understanding will help promote action, and hopefully eliminate the need for a PAYT system in the future.