Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Pay-as-You-Throw Garbage Fix

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Pay-as-You-Throw Garbage Fix

Article excerpt

Public officials in London are considering a ban on plastic bags after officials in a small British town banned plastic bags in May. Earlier this summer, San Francisco banned the sale of bottled water on city-owned property, citing concerns over the quantity of trash produced. The city had already banned plastic bags in March.

Plastic packaging does become trash in landfills, but some plastic bags and water bottles are certainly useful. To get to the "right" amount of trash, we don't need to ban packaging; people just need to know how much it actually costs to dispose of their dirty paper towels, orange peels, or water bottles.

Knowing the cost of these things doesn't mean you need to become a solid-waste expert. Rather, a simple price system can provide you with the information you need to produce the right amount of trash. To determine the right amount, every municipality should enact a pay- as-you-throw trash system. The prices in this system would convey to each of us the costs of our garbage-producing actions.

Market forces like supply and demand don't usually come to mind when thinking of waste disposal. But the same principles apply. People economize with other environmental goods when they face prices, just as they do with everyday items.

In most municipalities, trash disposal costs are invisible. Trash disposal is paid for out of taxes collected for the provision of many services. Trash service appears to us as an all-you-can-throw buffet. Each bag of trash we throw away pushes a landfill one bag closer to capacity. When solid waste authorities need to build a new landfill, they get the money through a budgetary process.

The problem is that under the current system, individuals do not feel the cost of one extra bag of garbage. No one has reason not to consume water out of new bottles or use multiple plastic bags at the grocery store. We are paying for waste disposal, but not paying for each bag of waste we produce. In fact, we do not know when we are paying more - or fewer - taxes for garbage collection and disposal, even when we produce more or less garbage. …

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