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Alone With J

January 17, 2011

By J SWYGART
    It was Saturday morning. There I was, in the garage. The temperature outside was single digits; only about a degree warmer inside.
    I was loading up about a month’s worth of recyclables: bags of paper; sacks of glass, plastic and tin cans. A tub full of cardboard. All destined for the county transfer station.
    And then I wondered: why?
    The answer was pretty simple. I think recycling is the right thing to do. Turning potential garbage into reusable resources, thus saving precious landfill space while at the same time saving a little money for the city (in the form of cost-avoidance) and making a little money for the county (from the sale of recyclables) seems to be a no-brainer.
   But on this frigid morning, it was hard not to think back to the previous week’s trash collection. After recyclables and compost materials were removed from the garbage, I took a single trash bag to the curb. Meanwhile, looking down the street, it was hard not to notice the neighbors’ five bags sitting there. That’s the way it is every week.
   Yet when my monthly utility bill arrives, it shows I’m being charged by the city $19 monthly for sanitation services — the exact amount as my neighbor who, judging by the usual collection of cardboard and other items sitting alongside the trash bags, is not particularly interested in recycling.
    So why should I be? The price of the extra trash bag or two it would take to hold a week’s worth of my recycling material is probably pretty much equal to the cost of gasoline it takes for me to drive to the transfer station. So it’s a financial wash.
    Still, in good conscience, I will continue to recycle. But perhaps it’s time for some incentives to be put in place to encourage similar practices from other city residents.
    Over the years there has been talk of implementing a curbside recycling program in Decatur. But, especially in light of current budget reductions and belt-tightening, such a program would seem to be cost-prohibitive. And even with a curbside program, the incentive to participate would be minimal, at best.
    Perhaps the best method would be to switch to a per-bag fee for trash disposal. That way, if I chose to recycle, and thereby reduce my weekly trash load, I will pay $1 per week (based on a single bag) for garbage pickup while my non-recycling neighbors will pay $5. Over the course of the month, I’ll pay $4 and they’ll pay $20. For the year, my cost is $52; their’s is $260.
    While not everyone will see the light, many people will. Recycling will increase, if for no reason other than the potential cost-savings, and the city will pay to dispose of fewer tons of refuse weekly/monthly/yearly.
    It seems simple; admittedly, it’s probably a little more complex than that. But it at the least seems worthy of discussion.

    As a point of reference, everything above this was written early in the week; Monday afternoon, to be exact. And even while writing the above portion of today’s essay, I was confident that few, if any, residents actually cared about recycling.
    But later that evening, during a meeting of the Berne city council, I was proved wrong. Two city residents stepped forward to request that Berne consider implementing a curbside recycling program.
    “A lot off people just won’t recycle” without such a program, said one of the two women addressing the council. “I recycle paper, but I refuse to recycle cans and bottles unless it’s curbside,” said the other.
    But, as mentioned earlier, it would seem that starting a curbside collection program would involve some pretty hefty start-up costs, and with the budget-cutting realities facing most municipalities these days would be cost prohibitive.
    The Berne council, to its credit, seemed willing to explore the possibilities of a curbside program and expressed an open mind on the subject.
    Now if only county residents would do likewise when it comes to recycling in general — with or without a curbside program.
 

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