October 01, 2007

Value of Trash


1. anything worthless, useless, or discarded; rubbish.
2. foolish or pointless ideas, talk, or writing; nonsense.
3. a worthless or disreputable person.
4. such persons collectively.
5. literary or artistic material of poor or inferior quality.
6. broken or torn bits, as twigs, splinters, rags, or the like.
7. something that is broken or lopped off from anything in preparing it for use.
8. the refuse of sugar cane after the juice has been expressed.
9. Computers. an icon of a trash can that is used to delete files dragged onto it.
–verb (used with object)
10. Slang. to destroy, damage, or vandalize, as in anger or protest: The slovenly renters had trashed the house.
11. to condemn, dismiss, or criticize as worthless: The article trashed several recent best-sellers.
12. to remove the outer leaves of (a growing sugar cane plant).
13. to free from superfluous twigs or branches.

By the very definition of the word, trash is worthless -- at least to those who discard it. It is assumed that when you put something out on the curb or put it into a garbage can or dumpster that you are relinquishing ownership of it to whomever either owns the garbage can/dumpster or whoever picks the trash up from the curb.

We can also safely say that whoever takes the trash away to the landfill or recycling center is getting something for their trouble. Maybe the city pays them some dollars to pick up trash (that's how NYC does it) or maybe you pay them directly (that's how it worked in Georgia where I lived) or maybe you do it yourself to keep the trash from burying your house.

I don't know that in any of those situations, it is actually more profitable for the trash taker-awayers to haul off MORE trash. I don't know about NYC, but in Georgia I paid the same amount no matter how much trash and recycling I put out there. And if I took it to the landfill myself, I would have to pay more based on the weight/amount.

So, I am perplexed by a new law in NYC that seeks to increase fines for people who steal recyclable trash.

New York Post: City Council Increases Fines for Theft of Recyclable Trash

The City Council unanimously passed a bill yesterday that would sharply increase fines for people who steal recyclable material from curbsides — to $2,000 from $100 for a first offense, and $5,000 for each subsequent offense within a year.

Officials say the bill is aimed at organized enterprises that use vehicles, which would be impounded under the new law, adding that the $100 fine had not been large enough to prevent these thefts. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill, according to an administration spokesman.

According to that same article, the city is actually making SOME money on the recyclable materials they cart off, but that's not to say it's a profit.

Sanitation officials estimated the city might be losing as much as 15,000 tons of paper a year from Manhattan alone. Based on the city’s current recycling contract, which pays $10 to $30 a ton, that means an annual loss of $150,000 to $300,000.

Nevertheless, the article also states that the city's recycling program has been historically woefully unprofitable. Apparently, "theft" of trash has caused an overall 2% drop in the amount of paper available for the city to haul off.

I object to this whole thing for a couple of reasons.

First of all, we can't call this "theft." The trash doesn't belong to anyone. The owners, by placing it on the curb, have clearly stated that they are relinquishing ownership of the articles in question. The things there do not yet belong to the city as the sidewalk is "public property" and the garbage trucks have not claimed it yet. (I also object to the notion of public property, but that's a whole different topic.)

Also, it seems capricious to extend this law to just recyclable materials.

What if some band of unmarked trucks came in and started picking up all the trash? I dare say the city would not complain. Instead, they see that they have a chance to make a little bit of money back on their misguided recycling program and they're using the law to bully private concerns from getting at it. Again we see that the state sees no need to compete for its dollars: it merely threatens.

If the city wants that money so badly, why don't they wake up earlier? Or clean up more frequently? Oh, that's right, it would cost them more.

Just a few weeks ago, Mister Bookworm and I were walking down the sidewalk and found that someone had tossed out lots of piles of books for the garbage man. We went through them and picked out several that we wanted. This is a common occurrence in NYC, actually. People put their "trash" on the curb and if you see something you like -- such as an old sofa, books, lamps, whatever -- you pick it up and take it. My roommates and I were unloading our car from Home Depot one afternoon and had to push away some vultures who thought we were throwing out perfectly good potted plants, pant, and our other purchases.

I doubt that this scavenging is considered illegal and according to Joe. My. God., the city swears that the law isn't intended to be used against homeless people either. I don't care about the homeless, but if they want to pick up trash, that's their business as much as it is mine to be rid of it.

This law also gives me very strong suspicions that it is illegal to run or hire your own trash collection service in the city.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at October 1, 2007 03:33 PM | TrackBack

Trash collection is one of those "deregulated" utility-esque services that are still essentially controlled by the city, but under the name of a private company. At least, that's how it is here. Does NYC Sanitation collect *all* the garbage in the city, or can you contract out to a "private" company like BFI or Waste Management? If you can, it's probably only because they have a contract with the city. Suffice it to say that nothing surprises me anymore in these situations.

And did I read somewhere that NYC has a mandatory self-sort recycling program?


Posted by: Qwertz at October 1, 2007 06:43 PM

You know, as I walked my boy through these suburban streets in the morning before garbage pickup, I had a chain of thought thinking that it might be a good source of revenue to pick up some of the aluminum sitting out for recycling. Some of the houses here have 30-50 cans a week, and on a block of 10 houses, you could make it worth your while.

But, I thought, that takes away from the only free money the trash haulers make out of it clear except for the contracted pick-up fee. So I then extrapolated that the city would outlaw the practice if someone started doing it and the hauler raised hell.

The time between my paranoid ad absurdum musings and government action is declining.

Here in my suburb, the city doesn't handle the hauling of trash directly, but it does pick a hauler that can serve the area and then makes it mandatory (under penalty of fines) for every household and business to use the designated hauler--so the city can get a better group rate.

It's best if we just accept it's like The Matrix, except instead of providing energy for the machines, citizens are merely tools plugged in to provide revenue for The State.

Posted by: Brian J. at October 1, 2007 07:28 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?