Publisher's Note: Bag the tag
By Jody Reese
While it’s commendable that New Hampshire’s municipal governments want us to recycle more and save more of our money, bag-and-tag trash programs are not the answer.
The bag-and-tag programs require residents to buy special municipal trash bags to pay for trash collection. This encourages residents to cut down on their trash and recycle more — since that remains free. While well-intentioned, the law of unintended consequences makes this sort of program almost unworkable in most urban cities, such as Manchester and Nashua.
I have four main issues with bag and tag.
It’s double taxation. We already pay for trash removal; adding a second fee won’t reduce our taxes and it especially won’t reduce the amount of rent renters pay. People already on the margins will have an extra expense.
This leads to another problem with bag and tag: dumping. Litter is already a problem in Manchester and Nashua (the towns seem a bit better), and forcing people to pay to throw away trash will only lead to more folks throwing trash in parks or rivers or just dumping it on the street. Some renters won’t be able to afford the trash bags and others might see it as unfair. Either way, right or wrong, the bag-and-tag program will lead to more litter and illegal dump sites.
I would expect to also see the private market move in and fill the void with out-of-town guys with trucks offering to pick up trash at a fraction of the price of the municipal trash bags. Some of these guys with trucks will simply take the trash to their town landfill, negating the environmental benefit, and others will just dump the trash in the woods, creating more environmental problems.
The logistics of apartments also make it difficult to enforce a bag-and-tag program. People will leave trash in piles near the exits, leaving landlords with extra costs.
Add to all this that a bag-and-tag program uses volume instead of weight, but municipalities are generally charged for trash on the basis of weight. This makes the bag-and-tag system unfair for both residents and the city.
True, the current system is also unfair and doesn’t encourage recycling. The answer is education, good recycling pick-up and an end-of-stream sorting system to separate recyclables from garbage. Schools are already doing a good job of convincing their students to make sure their parents are recycling as much as possible. These types of programs should continue and could be expanded to include more public community activities. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to set aside some of the money earned from recyclables (when that happens) for a community event. That demonstrates we’re in it together.
Making sure that recyclables are picked up on time will encourage more people to recycle. For those communities where you go to the dump or transfer station, making sure it’s easy to discard the recyclables is key.
End-of-stream recycling systems have become a technological reality in recent years, though they are now used for recyclers and not sorting general trash. This is changing and we’ll see more movement in this direction as it gets more expensive to burn or bury trash.