Alexa

Trash problem solved - take garbage to work

Trash problem solved - take garbage to work

The biggest challenge ahead for public finance is going to be how to take out the garbage.
Forget about gaping holes in public pensions, or the dumb ways states and municipalities use expensive financial products like interest rate swaps. No, it's all about garbage. Cities and towns don't want to do it. There are more important things that our municipalities provide, like police and fire protection, water and sewer services, but garbage collection is right up there. And cities and towns just don't want to do it. How else to explain the huge array of rules and regulations surrounding your trash pickup?
It's not just New York, where I live, or even in cities in general. Last year, my father was in the hospital for several weeks, and I went out to his house in New Jersey to check on things. He lives in a little town of 20,000 people. Rifling through one of the kitchen drawers one day I came across a flier detailing the dozens of do's and don'ts governing the collection of garbage in his town.
There may still be places where if you put out the garbage, your department of sanitation will come by and pick it up without too much fuss, but I bet they are the exception.
All this came to mind last week after I read a story in The New York Times about how the city of New York will now get tough with people who throw trash away in the public baskets on street corners. What? Wait a minute, isn't that what trash baskets are for?
It turns out that that's not what the city is really doing, not really. The city is going to fine people who throw away their household trash in corner baskets, you know, bags of the stuff, and people who dispose of commercial trash. This is already illegal; the city is raising penalties to US$300 from US$100.
And that's fine, when you think about it. I know filling up baskets that are to be used for incidental trash like gum wrappers and coffee cups and water bottles and such is selfish and disgusting.
Here I should say that the mayor of the city, Michael Bloomberg, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
You wonder why people do that kind of thing, using the public trash receptacles that way, and then you don't. There are so many rules and prohibitions on what can be thrown out as part of the garbage, and when, you can see it drives people to distraction, at least those who think about it.
Dumpster conundrum
That's probably more people than you think. There are people who relish living in their own refuse, of course, pathological souls, and then there are people who police their property with meticulous care and wash down the sidewalk every morning. And then there are the rest of us, who keep things nicely tidy. That's really what throwing out the garbage is all about: I don't need this any more, I don't want this any more, take it away.
More and more, our freedom to do this is whittled down. Some people, more than others, are driven frantic by the new and ever-more numerous rules, so they just walk down to the corner in the dead of night and toss out their bag of forbidden garbage, whatever it is.
The perfect illustration of this, at least in New York, is the dumpsters used by contractors as they renovate houses or apartments. If the dumpster is not covered by a tarp at night, or surrounded by armed guards, it will fill up, as if by magic. Paint cans, old televisions, stereo sets, odd bits of lumber, chairs missing legs, entire wooden bureaus, unidentifiable masses of plaster and cement, tree branches - all find their way into the dumpster. Take it away!
Cities and towns across the country are devising more and more intricate rules every day dictating how we throw away our unwanted stuff. Humanity everywhere inclines toward tyranny, and today we live in a garbage-ocracy, intent on burying us all in our own trash, or at least in the regulations regarding its disposal.
The garbage-ocracy doesn't come cheap, I am sure. You need more and more people to draw up these endless and growing rules, and enforce them.
Perhaps public finance may free us. I'm not exactly sure how. Maybe some wise lawmakers will suggest putting a bond issue on the ballot this fall to finance little compactors for all of us, or personal-size incinerators, or elaborate underground vaults where everyone can deal with their own garbage. Then finally our municipalities will get their wish, and stop picking up everything.
Joe Mysak is a Bloomberg News columnist.


Updated : 2021-03-01 03:01 GMT+08:00