The Unintended Consequences of New Trash Rules

The introduction of new pay-by-weight trash charges in Ireland seems to have produced a strange and troubling effect: an increase in burn victims at St. James Hospital in Dublin.

Huh?

The theory is that people wanted to avoid having to pay for all their trash so instead they burned it in their backyards. Gary Finnegan, editor of Irish Medical News, alerted us to this strange occurrence:

The idea of the new charges was to encourage the public to “reduce, reuse and recycle” packaging and other household waste. However, it actually encouraged people to burn their domestic refuse rather than pay waste charges to the local councils. There’s no way of knowing just how many people followed this (illegal) course of action, but some of them threw flammable liquids on the home incinerator and needed referrals to burns specialists.

Here’s an academic study on the subject, just published in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery. From the abstract:

This study demonstrates that the introduction of legislation can have an unforeseen adverse affect on the population if not introduced in correlation with appropriate public education. While the introduction of waste charges represents a very necessary move forward in waste disposal in Ireland, public awareness campaigns should be implemented to prevent further such injuries from occurring.

Indeed.


egretman

Any Texan could have told you that! Rural people know that trash fees are assessed just as any utility fees are. They are a mandatory monthly fee on any home and the fees are the same no matter how much trash you produce.

Otherwise, garbage mysteriously appears at the the end of any road that terminates in your neighbor's property. It is a southern law by some guy called Murphy.

The is absolutely the most assinine wasteful study. I'm surprised that Levitt didn't get it pulled in peer review. The problem of garbage disposal was solved years ago in Texas and parts of Louisiana. I really don't know why you yankees didn't get the word.

Seriously, I don't know why we don't just let Texans run the world. Every thing would run much better.

dantheman

@ egretman

With the former governor of Texas as the current President of the U.S., I respectfully disagree that we should "just let Texans run the world."

egretman

I agree wholeheartedly, dantheman. You make an excellent point.

Since a Texan is already leader of the freeworld, while not just let a Texan run the whole world? There's not much left really.

kaszeta

I've seen a related issue in nearby Hanover, NH:

1. Hanover designed their wastewater treatment plant to handle significantly more wastewater than the town was projected to be able to handle.
2. Hanover then implements a per-bag trash disposal fee to reduce household trash.
3. The wastewater treatment plant notices a massive increase in the solids contents of the wastewater, and the plant is now considered too small to serve the community.

That's right: they charge per-bag to try and reduce waste, and the effect is that people find an alternative disposal process with a lower marginal cost to themselves (a slight increase in water consumption): putting more stuff down the disposal.

A classic example of "hidden costs", and I've seen it other places that have done "pay-per-bag" disposal: people find all sorts of creative ways to get around the system (take your garbage to work, litter, etc.) But most systems are still trumpeted as successes.

Read more...

mtbube

It isn't a trash problem in our are, Ventura CA. Here the bureaucrats love trees and will fine you for taking them down in order to build anything and they will ask you to set aside a portion of your property where you will never cut anything down or build anything. Many of the properties in the county are large parcels for orchards or ranches. Most of the trees aren't even native to CA. The net effect of their rules about trees is that no one is willing to plant a tree for fear that it will actually cost them in the end when they want to build or sell the land for a housing development.

BRK

Round here (western Massachusetts) pay-per-throw is usually accompanied by some alternatives to reduce the amount of trash by recycling, swaps, etc. but there is a certain amount of cheating that goes on.

My experience in New Jersey is that a town will cheerfully cart away just about anything left on the curb but they're looking at the highest property tax burden in the country.

How one manages the disposal of solid waste in an economy heavily dependent on consumer spending on non-durable goods is truly a question of cosmic proportions.

frankenduf

is it just me, or does this study portray the irish as kinda dumb (unfortunately, it's frankenDUF)

Bruce Hayden

This study demonstrates that the introduction of legislation can have an unforeseen adverse affect on the population if not introduced in correlation with appropriate public education. While the introduction of waste charges represents a very necessary move forward in waste disposal in Ireland, public awareness campaigns should be implemented to prevent further such injuries from occurring.

Well, yes, a bit more education might have been useful. But I somehow get the feeling that the authors of that were thinking that if they just explained to the people that burning was bad, they wouldn't. What would have worked would have been to teach them how to burn successfully.

Of course, that brings us to another problem here - carbon emissions, global warming, etc. If the city were carbon conscious, and knew what it was doing, it would presumably not have done this because it is much better to bury the carbon in the garbage than to burn it very inefficiently.

Read more...

Bruce Hayden

is it just me, or does this study portray the irish as kinda dumb

Are you talking the city fathers who didn't think through the economic ramifications of their actions? Or the poor Irish who misburned their trash?

I would suggest that, on average, the Irish involved are probably little different in IQ than any other similar population. You will, invariably, have some people in every population who can't figure out how to burn trash safely. And you will have some city fathers who are naive enough to think that passing laws is all it takes to solve problems, ignoring that such invariably have consequences.

Actually, I might suggest that most politicians and bureaucrats fall into this category, so it isn't a question of stupidity, bur rather, in putting too much faith in their ability to outthink their constituants. They mostly can't, and should take that into account with whatever they try to do.

Read more...

egretman

Any Texan could have told you that! Rural people know that trash fees are assessed just as any utility fees are. They are a mandatory monthly fee on any home and the fees are the same no matter how much trash you produce.

Otherwise, garbage mysteriously appears at the the end of any road that terminates in your neighbor's property. It is a southern law by some guy called Murphy.

The is absolutely the most assinine wasteful study. I'm surprised that Levitt didn't get it pulled in peer review. The problem of garbage disposal was solved years ago in Texas and parts of Louisiana. I really don't know why you yankees didn't get the word.

Seriously, I don't know why we don't just let Texans run the world. Every thing would run much better.

dantheman

@ egretman

With the former governor of Texas as the current President of the U.S., I respectfully disagree that we should "just let Texans run the world."

egretman

I agree wholeheartedly, dantheman. You make an excellent point.

Since a Texan is already leader of the freeworld, while not just let a Texan run the whole world? There's not much left really.

kaszeta

I've seen a related issue in nearby Hanover, NH:

1. Hanover designed their wastewater treatment plant to handle significantly more wastewater than the town was projected to be able to handle.
2. Hanover then implements a per-bag trash disposal fee to reduce household trash.
3. The wastewater treatment plant notices a massive increase in the solids contents of the wastewater, and the plant is now considered too small to serve the community.

That's right: they charge per-bag to try and reduce waste, and the effect is that people find an alternative disposal process with a lower marginal cost to themselves (a slight increase in water consumption): putting more stuff down the disposal.

A classic example of "hidden costs", and I've seen it other places that have done "pay-per-bag" disposal: people find all sorts of creative ways to get around the system (take your garbage to work, litter, etc.) But most systems are still trumpeted as successes.

Read more...

mtbube

It isn't a trash problem in our are, Ventura CA. Here the bureaucrats love trees and will fine you for taking them down in order to build anything and they will ask you to set aside a portion of your property where you will never cut anything down or build anything. Many of the properties in the county are large parcels for orchards or ranches. Most of the trees aren't even native to CA. The net effect of their rules about trees is that no one is willing to plant a tree for fear that it will actually cost them in the end when they want to build or sell the land for a housing development.

BRK

Round here (western Massachusetts) pay-per-throw is usually accompanied by some alternatives to reduce the amount of trash by recycling, swaps, etc. but there is a certain amount of cheating that goes on.

My experience in New Jersey is that a town will cheerfully cart away just about anything left on the curb but they're looking at the highest property tax burden in the country.

How one manages the disposal of solid waste in an economy heavily dependent on consumer spending on non-durable goods is truly a question of cosmic proportions.

frankenduf

is it just me, or does this study portray the irish as kinda dumb (unfortunately, it's frankenDUF)

Bruce Hayden

This study demonstrates that the introduction of legislation can have an unforeseen adverse affect on the population if not introduced in correlation with appropriate public education. While the introduction of waste charges represents a very necessary move forward in waste disposal in Ireland, public awareness campaigns should be implemented to prevent further such injuries from occurring.

Well, yes, a bit more education might have been useful. But I somehow get the feeling that the authors of that were thinking that if they just explained to the people that burning was bad, they wouldn't. What would have worked would have been to teach them how to burn successfully.

Of course, that brings us to another problem here - carbon emissions, global warming, etc. If the city were carbon conscious, and knew what it was doing, it would presumably not have done this because it is much better to bury the carbon in the garbage than to burn it very inefficiently.

Read more...

Bruce Hayden

is it just me, or does this study portray the irish as kinda dumb

Are you talking the city fathers who didn't think through the economic ramifications of their actions? Or the poor Irish who misburned their trash?

I would suggest that, on average, the Irish involved are probably little different in IQ than any other similar population. You will, invariably, have some people in every population who can't figure out how to burn trash safely. And you will have some city fathers who are naive enough to think that passing laws is all it takes to solve problems, ignoring that such invariably have consequences.

Actually, I might suggest that most politicians and bureaucrats fall into this category, so it isn't a question of stupidity, bur rather, in putting too much faith in their ability to outthink their constituants. They mostly can't, and should take that into account with whatever they try to do.

Read more...