Friday, March 18, 2011


One of the things I notice in the USA is the amount of garbage I see being put out in my neighborhood. In London, we had two wheelie bins, one for trash, the other, recycling. Each was picked up every other week, along with food waste which was picked up for composting weekly. We did fine with that, in fact, even with Grant in the house generating lots of food waste, we rarely filled either bin.

In my new neighborhood, however, the trash is picked up twice a week, and there is an amazing array of refuse out of the curb on pickup days. Selfishly, I don't mind that because I have a lot of moving trash to get rid of right now, and there's no financial penalty to me if I leave a huge pile of boxes and broken junk out on the curb. All of that is paid for in my monthly municipal fee.

There's a move afoot in more liberal (or landfill-strapped) parts of the US to something called 'pay-as-you-throw'. The idea is that the average family's garbage would cost them about what they pay today. If you throw away less, you pay less; big trash producers would get hit in the pocketbook. Having a direct link between actions and costs is Economics 101. The EPA has a good webpage about the concept.

The same applies out on Aspö, with a bit of a twist. The island residents pay into a fund to the Värmdö municipality for trash pickup at the big dock during the peak summer months. So there's a financial contribution, but almost the bigger cost is the effort required to wheelbarrow stuff to and from one's house.

The solution is called 'precycling'; reducing waste by thinking about our purchases holistically. Recycling is good, but there's still energy required to sort and reprocess materials (and, on a very local level, to carry them down to the dock). Precycling tries to avoid excess stuff to begin with, to eliminate trash and recycling materials at the time of purchase. Good examples of this are box wine, rechargeable batteries, or UHT milk, all of which are island staples.

When one has a high cost to throw away something, either a fee from the local government, or the hassle of carting it a kilometer to the dock, it's a great incentive to avoid having those things to get rid of in the first place!


Priscilla said...

Here in Pasadena you have the option of a much smaller trash bin that costs less than the standard (huge) trash bin. Sadly, we always seem to fill our standard bin and our recycle bin.

Kenji said...

Interesting... Dana and I remember very vividly feeling like resource hogs when we moved from Texas to England. We always thought we were reasonable conservationists until we had to do one bin of garbage per 2 weeks. AND, they wouldn't pick it up if the lid was in the air due to overfilling. We quickly managed to fit into the program. Since we've moved back to Texas, we've kept our habits from England. We could go nearly 2 weeks for garbage haul.