More Unintended Trash Consequences

Well-meaning policies can often have unintended consequences: trash taxes, for example, have been associated with backyard burning of trash in Ireland, trash dumped in the woods (in Virginia), and rat-infested sewers in Germany (thanks to flushed trash). Now, a family in Sharon Township, Ohio (where residents are charged for their trash), left behind a big mess when they moved out of their home. “When I opened the garage door, there was a year’s worth of garbage stacked in the garage, and on top of that garbage was a rat that looked like a small cat to me,” said a neighbor. (HT: Joe Haugen)[%comments]

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Eileen Wyatt says:

    If trash pick-up fees strongly discourage putting out the trash for pick-up, how does Freakonomics account for the large number of cities that have long had these fees, with the vast majority of residents cooperatively paying them?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Dan says:

    Simple solution. Find the cost for each product during all of it’s cycles. From Raw material, to consumption to disposal/recycle. Charge a tax or fee embedded to the actual price of the product. For example, when you purchase a car you should be paying for the future disposal of that vehicle in the purchase price. That would allow the consumer to evaluate and be accountable for the true cost to society a given product poses. Right now companies sell cheap products and our tax dollars have to indirectly pay for the impacts cause by those products. This disconnect leads to uninformed/bad decision by consumers.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Peter McCorison says:

    Here in San Juan County, WA, a group of islands, we PAY $12 for the privilege of carrying a can of trash to the transfer station and dumping it ourselves into a bin.

    We don’t seem to have the problems noted in TFA, however.

    There’s a lot of green pressure here.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. Dan says:

    This is why the Aluminum Can Tax remains useful, though imperfectly executed.

    You tax people for the trash they will create on the front end (i.e. at purchase). You reward them for recycling by returning that deposit.

    The collection centers also create jobs and help create “scavenger opportunities” for people cleaning up waste- their are some pretty wealthy people bagging cans in the tailgate lot after a football game.

    Could this be replicated for items that come in cardboard boxes, plastic cartons, glass jars, etc.? What about food waste?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. ElvisInMiami says:

    making it socially acceptable to have small amounts of trash seems like a good strategy. What if neighborhoods competed for the largest volumes of recycling and composting along with the smallest volumes of trash?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Derek says:

    Every tax has a tax evasion scheme.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Ian Kemmish says:

    There do appear to be solutions which work, but they’re depressing. One of the dividing lines in the recent election here in the UK was between Labour favouring residents paying the tax on the landfill they generate, and the Conservatives favouring a scheme where people who produce less are given a reward.

    The first depressing thing is that both schemes require fitting RFID tags to everyone’s bin, but of course only Labour’s version of this is seen as a “bloody liberty”.

    The second is that this is of course merely a relabelling of the money – in one case I pay a lower basic tax and have it increased if I generate landfill; in the other I pay a higher basic tax which is then reduced (but see the next point).

    The third is that I don’t actually get a council tax rebate with the Conservative’s scheme – I actually have to register with a commercial company who send me vouchers to spend in local shops. I don’t know about you, but I never end up spending those vouchers anyway – which translates into less of a rebate for me and more profit for the company operating the scheme!

    The fourth depressing thing is that the Conservative’s appeal to people’s greed, even though it leaves them on average worse off, does actually appear to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of landfill produced. At least in local pilot schemes.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. j mendez says:

    while not a conservative, appealing to people’s greed is the one thing we can always count on–why not make it work to our advantage? It takes what it takes, so whether we’re ‘rewarding’ or ‘penalizing’ trash pick up doesn’t really matter. The truth is that the only fix to our problems is to do what nature does: integrate supply chains– have businesses support one another by using the waste from one to supply the other.

    It would go something like this: I make those nifty little book ‘safes’ (the hollow books where you can hide stuff), a byproduct is the actual paper that gets cut out from the books, so in a flash of inspiration (they only happen very occasionally), I decided to add to my product line, and now I recycle the paper myself and sell hand made letter paper you can’t get in retail outlets.

    The real problem (addressed above by several readers) is getting people to see the real cost of things. It’s always a zero sum game, and for every instance of ‘savings’ there is a cost– cheaper food through corn, for example, leads to higher medical costs for many because of the health problems that the cheaper food brings with it. So yeah, pay it now or pay it later, you’re still going to pay–try getting that message across– especially here in the states.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0