February 1, 2007

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Concord Publisher's Note: Trash talking
By Dan Szczesny

What necessities are you willing to pay taxes for? Fixing potholes? Sure. Police and fire departments? Of course. Making sure our kids are getting a proper education? Obviously.

Now, what quality of life issues are you willing to pitch in for? City-sponsored arts or cultural events? Makes sense, great for quality of life. Urban beautification? All part of making Concord a livable community.

How about the one thing we all make? How about trash?

Concord officials are looking into a pay-as-you-throw trash program that would force residents to pay a couple bucks for a regulation garbage bag. Similar programs have been looked at and rejected by Concord officials in the past. Most big cities in the state, including Manchester and Keene ,have rejected such programs, though more than a dozen rural towns use similar recycling programs.

Supporters say such a program would be a fair way to disperse the cost of trash disposal among households. In other words, the more trash you make, the more you’d have to pay. Detractors argue that trash pick-up is a basic living cost and that pay-as-you-throw programs amount to nothing more than so called “green taxes.” Plus, it may encourage some to simply litter.

Either way, the proposal will be sure to eat up a lot of time and headlines in the next few months, mainly because the issue is such a hot button personal liberties issue. Simply put, should the government legislate environmental policy such as recycling?

Of course they should, and do. Often. Every time you get into your car, drive over a bridge, buy things like detergents and over-the-counter drugs, and a million other everyday activities, you are being legislated. Some policies are good, some not so much.

In the case of pay-as-you-throw trash, city officials are on the right track. There are endless logistics issues to work out, such as who will enforce the rules and how to make the program fair to all types of residents; for example, would landlords be responsible for the trash practices of their tenants?

Ultimately, though, this proposal is likely to fail, just as it has in the past, because this kind of enforcement goes too far, too quickly. In rural communities where composting is a way of life and residents take their own garbage to the dump, it’s easier and more practical to keep your eye on your trash. Urban communities need to be better educated, and that is something the city can do.

A better way to encourage recycling efforts would be public awareness programs. And listen to this: some big cities around the country are even willing to give recycling bags away to residents and teach them about the long-term benefits to their community. Make recycling easy and cost-effective for residents and they’ll come around. But until we learn to do it on our own, city government will and should do everything they can to make sure we do it. Even if that means making us pay.