Boston not doing nearly enough to encourage recycling

In Mike Mennonno's column in this morning's Metro, he writes about various environmental issues affecting our city. His column brought up a lot of good points, though he might have included another half-sentence acknowledging that cycling is a viable commuting alternative for people able-bodied enough to ride a bike, rather than for everyone.

Otherwise, he does a great job pointing out that people really don't take responsibility for preserving resources or keeping the city clean unless there's a law requiring them to. Mennonno talks about having recently biked through the South End in attempts to be environmentally conscious, only to find the streets difficult to navigate, as they were strewn with piled-up and broken-open trash bags. He mentions the pointless rubbish code and his attempts to bring it to the attention of the city:

But the city’s “rubbish rules” do nothing to discourage it. While the rubbish code states that “There must be sufficient metal or durable plastic barrels for storing of refuse generated in building,” it contradicts this dictate on the very next line: “Disposable 2-ply [or heavier] plastic bags may be used instead of trash barrels for curbside trash collection.” In short: you MUST use trash barrels, but you don’t have to.

Of course, as is usually the case when contacting city officials, he received a reply from someone who didn't read and/or understand his e-mail. The told him to contact code enforcement, but that would be pointless -- the bags all the hell over the place don't violate any code, which is exactly the point he was making.

However, I think there's another solution to the trash bags all over the place. While it might not make sense to require barrels for every single load of trash, because it's pointless and wasteful to buy an extra barrel because you had a party or cleaned out your attic, why doesn't the city just start fining people for placing any recyclable item in the trash? They wouldn't be going around breaking people's trash bags open, of course, but code enforcement could have someone walk around and cite any household with visible recyclables in a trash barrel or bag. They could also periodically follow the refuse truck around and break open every 10th bag into the truck or something. Visible recyclables would warrant one of those green tickets affixed to the house like people receive for putting trash out before 5pm in neighborhoods where the city actually cares about such things. The city could easily afford periodic enforcement with the money they'd be saving on landfill service.

Just the fact of something being a law encourages a good number of people to abide by it. In my neighborhood, for instance, I seriously doubt that code enforcement has ever come around ticketing people for putting trash out before 5pm, but I never see trash outside before 5. Why? Because there's a law, and people know this. I do, however, see barrels full of recyclables every trash day and I see houses on the street that have never put out a recycling bin since I've lived there. Much like the 5pm law, a recycling law would send a message that the community does not accept recyclables being thrown away. It would at least lead to more recycling than is currently happening.


jon said...

In my hometown in Western Mass they passed a town ordinance that required clear trash bags - so you wouldn't have to break open any bags, your "crap" would just be on display through the magic of clear plastic. It brings up a whole host of civil rights and unjust search issues I'm not sure I quite understand...but my parent still throw their trash away in a clear bag every week - recycleables go in the blue bin.

eeka said...

Where my mom lives, on the outskirts of Seattle, she has to subscribe to trash service. She pays for either one barrel or two, and then is charged extra if she puts anything else out. She is allowed to put out unlimited recyling in the recycling bin. This is easier to enforce where she is, where the houses are mostly single family and have small city yards between them, but it certainly cuts down on people throwing out recyclable or useful items. It's a lot more common there that people who wouldn't otherwise care do make the effort to call and have charities pick up things like furniture and lamps and so forth, since they'd be charged if they threw them out.

I'm not sure how this could be enforced in a more dense area, but maybe the trash collection department could issue stickers or tags or something, and any household putting out more than, say, two barrels would have to put a tag with the name and address in order to get the item taken. Then there would be a small charge for taking the items. I'm guessing this would encourage most people to take a few minutes to freecycle the item or have Boomerangs come get it rather than throwing it out. Also, if everyone was recycling as they should, it would be really hard to get beyond two barrels unless it was a special circumstance like a huge party or a death or something.

Anonymous said...

eeka - do you really want someone to sift through your trash and go through your rubbish with a fine tooth comb? i dont, and i also dont want to pay someone 20 bucks an hour to do it, unless they are illegal and will do it for 2 dollars an hour

Kristine said...

My hometown in Jersey did that when I was growing up. They used to shake the garbage bags and if they heard glass or cans, they'd fine you. I was younger though, so I don't remember how well it worked.

adamg said...

Some towns around here deal with the recycling issue in a relatively simple way that does not involve hiring garbage inspectors:

You have to buy stickers for each trash bag - the more you throw out, the more stickers you have to buy, thus increasing your incentive to recycle.

The drawback in Boston, I bet, would be that you'd still have to wind up hiring more inspectors - to look for incriminating evidence in the loads of trash people would start dumping by the side of the road, along railroad tracks, in the Neponset, etc.

Anonymous said...

if you read the article excerpt carefully it states you need trash bins inside of buildings, probably to keep rodents and insects at bay within living areas. bins are not needed outside. there is no contradiction.

also, you spelled the mayor's name wrong several times.

eeka said...

I don't use the mayor's name in the post at all, so that's funny.