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.