Monday, August 23, 2010

Marginal cost pricing cuts garbage

When I lived in Nagasaki, the sanitation folks wouldn't take any trash unless it was in a special individual trash bags that cost something like $2-3 per bag. This was their way of making sure that those who filled the garbage trucks were paying for those garbage trucks. Ithaca, NY has a similar policy involving tagging trash bags. One recent convert to this approach is in Sanford, Maine, where charging for trash collection by the amount collected has led to a massive drop in trash collected.

While a drop in collected trash is a good thing in an era of strapped governmental budgets, I'm wondering what has happened to the trash that was once at the curb. Sanford is a town of about 20,000 that "features many lakes in wooded areas which attract campers." That makes it sound likely that a lot of the formerly collected trash is going up in smoke, which can create a variety of toxic gases as well as contribute particulate matter to the atmosphere. I can think of other possible explanations for the decrease in collected trash, but hopefully the good people of Sanford are looking into the discrepancy and making decisions based on more evidence than we see in the short piece I cited above.

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