I’m recycling more, Why is my trash bill going up?

March 14th, 2012

Closed 1970’s landfill still pollutes this creek in Angola NY

Unfortunately there are few financial incentives for responsible curbside recycling. ZeroWaste is a complex whorl of economic, social and environmental incentives and penalties involving citizens, governments and businesses.

For profits (and some non-profits) have stripped off many of the profitable ends of the business:

  • Waste collection services (WasteManagement, BFI, etc)
  • Waste metal management for large pieces and valuable metals (from the jeweler & dentist to the auto junkyard)
  • Landfills
  • Glass, bottles, cans, cardboard: the reason scavenging in your recycling is discouraged is because your city tries to keep you costs down by selling these. Your city competes with individuals who take them to recycling centers. No easy answers here, many people make ends meet using these strategies.
  • E-waste – stripped down for precious and recyclable metals
  • Concrete
  • Wood and other separable construction waste


What is left in municipal waste landfills is the dregs, that has no market and is expensive to maintain with toxic barriers – sadly, the contents of landfills are the most environmentally destructive:

  • Styrofoams, black plastics, non-conforming plastics found predominantly in food containers & wrappings, electronic items shipped from overseas
  • Packaging – wrappers from chips, candy
  • Toxic items – against the law but people do it anyway
  • Mixed material content items, for example:
    • metal shovel w/wooden handle
    • many toys
  • Electronic appliances, tools, toys
  • Plant matter that is difficult to compost – cactus & bamboo
  • Recyclable/compostable materials that some folks are too lazy or unable to separate – milk cartons with attached plastic caps

Did you know that for every one trash can  of non-recyclables that you put in front of your house  that 71 have been put out in the manufacture of the contents of your trash?

That being said, in many cities, business trash has been subsidizing residential trash. Business complains, resident rates rise.

Social Costs:

  • One stream trash systems and single barrel street recycling are less efficient – we lose things such as high-grade white paper that could be recycled in to copy paper (that’s why it’s become more expensive). Hard-core recyclers are rabid because recycling efforts are dumbed down.
  • On the flip side, much more is recycled overall because more residents are compliant
  • Legislators are stuck in the middle trying to please both types of constituents, no one is fully happy.

The only “financial” incentive that I can think of is that your garbage costs would be even higher if you did not recycle. You may force your government to try it out but you may not be happy with the results.

How to change things? Find ways to change or legislate disposal/manufacture of items that typically fill up landfill waste. Make noise at town council meetings, join a committee, talk to your family, friends and neighbors.

Practice the 6 Rs of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Repair, ReUse, Recycle, Regulate.

Polystyrene at The Fish Market

August 8th, 2011

We went to The Fish Market in San Mateo last week after a long hiatus and I was frustrated to find that they still use styro for takeout.  Since they have 6 California locations and do a large business and I feel they should be a  market leader in sustainability and set the bar.

If you agree, please take a few minutes to go to their website and write them (choose “Contact Us” from the top menu).

Below is my letter which you are free to plagiarize (but please personalize and change it up a bit).  Forward this to others you know who go there so we can have a big impact.

“I am very frustrated that you still used Styrofoam/polystyrene takeout containers; not only that, the container was much larger than was needed for a small amount of food. I am especially surprised because the fish & shellfish on which you pride yourselves are the animals most impacted by the Pacific Garbage Sworl and the breakdown of plastics that become part of their flesh. It is time for Fish Market to take a lead in this environmental initiative.

I am making my restaurant choices based on sustainability practices and share my findings with others folks I know that have the same concerns.  I am looking forward to hearing about a change in this practice so I can become a regular customer again.”