Saturday, February 18, 2006

Rockland's Pay-Per-Bag Policy

Rockland's city council has given its preliminary approval to a pay-per-bag garbage fee at the transfer station. I lived in Rockland for a few years of my adult life, and am a native of Rockland, so I have some first-hand knowledge of the matter.

It's really surprizing that bag fees weren't implemented long ago. In Liberty, we pay a per-bag fee when we take our garbage to the Tri-County Transfer and Recycling. Whenever I go to the transfer station, I see lots of folks have separated out their recycling.

My parents live in another town that charges per bag. Even before the charges took effect there, that town's transfer station had one of the best-organized recycling centers in the state. Recycling is easy there, and everyone has to drive through the recycling area to get to the transfer hopper.

Rockland, however, is a great example of what happens when government does everything in its power to thwart market forces. When everyone in Rockland gets to throw away their trash for free, nobody has any economic incentive to recycle. And getting a permit to go into the transfer station was, at least when I was living there, illogically connected to a vehicle, rather than a resident. I lived within walking distance of the transfer station.

I often could take all my recycling on the rear panier rack of my bicycle (garbage collection was covered by my rent, but not recycling). When I went to the town office to get a permit, I was told that I had to have a vehicle registered in Rockland to use the transfer station. That involved a second trip to the office, since I had gotten there by bicycle, not by car. Then, when I received the permit, they told me I had to decide whether it would be used for the bicycle or the car. So if I wanted to keep the option of using both, I'd have to get two permits. I'd have to get a third permit if I wanted to just walk in with a small bag of recyclables.

At the time, Rockland had received poor marks from the state for its recycling as a percentage of waste. You'd think they would have acted happy that a concerned citizen who was trying to do the right thing for the environment wanted to add to the recycling percentage. But in typical bureaucratic fashion, the clerks acted resentful that I was even there talking to them.

So I decided to just get one for the bicycle. Then it was almost a year and a half before anybody at the transfer station ever asked to see my permit. And of course, I witnessed time and again the dumping of items I had dutifully separated for recycling into the transfer boxes.

If we can't trust government to handle our garbage correctly, why do we insist on trusting them with more important things? Like deciding there are too many taxis in town (see same linked story, above).



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