Attention! Citizens of Portland!

by Walter Olson on June 8, 2012

Your city is counting on you to report on neighbors who violate the recycling and composting rules by using the wrong bin. An army of anonymous informers cannot be defeated! [Tung Yin;]


1 Swift 06.10.12 at 7:17 am

Ok, I give. What exactly is wrong with a system where people are encouraged to report if their neighbors are acting against everybody’s interests and cheating on the recycling scheme? Those reports can then be investigated and, if necessary, acted upon.

Let’s look at the alternatives:
1. Do nothing, and gain none of the benefits of recycling and composting programs. The environment loses.
2. Invest in professional enforcers and technological means. more money, bigger government, inefficiency squared.

go on, libertarians – tell me where I’m wrong in this one. Propose an alternative solution. Go.

2 gitarcarver 06.10.12 at 11:47 am

A better series of questions for Swift to answer is “what is right about a program that encourages citizens to examine the contents of other citizen’s trash? What is the benefit of a program that allows a charge to be made, investigators sent out, and no accountability for the person making the charge? What is good about a system where these anonymous unaccountable charges can and will be used to harass and intimidate citizens who have done nothing wrong? What is good about a system that will allow warring neighbors to ratchet up the hatred by putting trash in the compost bin of a neighbor and then reporting the owner of the bin?

Furthermore, Swift’s list of numbered arguments are based on false assumptions. 1) There is no evidence that turning people into some sort of “eco-snitch” would have any effect on the recycling program or wipe out any “gains” from the program. At issue is whether people are placing non-compostable items in a composting container. A simple screening process at the recycling facility would serve to separate the non-compostable items from the compostable items.

Secondly, the “bigger government” argument is exactly what the proposed rule is. The program will require more investigators, more money, more people to take complaints, more people to write violations, more people to defend those violations, etc. That is the epitome of bigger government and inefficiency squared.

I know I am about to invoke Godwin’s law here, but this is way too reminiscent of young people in Germany being told to turn in their parents to the government, or people in the USSR being told to spy on their neighbors. Maybe Swift would be more comfortable in governments such as those, rather than that of the US.

3 Richard Nieporent 06.10.12 at 2:10 pm

Excellent response gitarcarver. Clearly I wouldn’t want Swift living in my neighborhood. My neighbors are neighborly – we go out of our way to help one another. The last thing we would do is to report our neighbors to the authorities for putting the wrong thing in the recycling bin. I guess we are funny that way. As rational human beings we know that a society in which people are encouraged to anomalously report on each other is one in which there is distrust and hate. Only environmental fanatics would thing that the tradeoff is worth it.

4 Bill Poser 06.10.12 at 2:27 pm

I suspect that gitacarver is overconfident about the ease of mechanically separating different types of materials. In Japan, a country that is quite good at automation, people are required to separate recyclables into as many as eight categories and in some cities are required to use clear plastic bags so that passers-by can observe failures to separate the different types.

5 gitarcarver 06.10.12 at 2:43 pm

Bill Poser,

This is not about separating different types of materials. As I read the article, the issue us separating composted materials from non composting materials. While the various may be difficult to separate, compost and non compost are not. (Our local recycler does just that with a screening at the end of the composting process. Non-composting materials are easily separated.)

If you want to separate materials into categories of materials as you suggest, I agree with you totally. However, in my neck of the woods Waste Management now promotes “single stream recycling” where the home owner does not have to separate things at all. At a recent city council meeting, representatives of WM said the single stream approach was more efficient and technically easier for them. How they are doing that, I do not know.

6 DensityDuck 06.11.12 at 12:39 pm

“This is not about separating different types of materials.”

That’s exactly what it’s about, you ninny. If you want your collection service to do single-stream recycling, then it costs more and requires better processing facilities (which would take tax dollars to build.) If you want cheap collection then you need to expect the citizens to take on some of the burden.

7 gitarcarver 06.11.12 at 2:23 pm

That’s exactly what it’s about, you ninny.

No, it is not – not as defined by separating different types of plastics, print mediums, etc. What this is talking about is compostable vs non compostable. That is not a “separation different types of materials” as used by Bill Poser when he says, ” In Japan, a country that is quite good at automation, people are required to separate recyclables into as many as eight categories …..

Got it now?

Secondly, and this is according to Waste Management, single stream is cheaper because they have to have sorters for the different categories of materials (different plastics, different print mediums, etc) no matter whether they are sorting multiple streams of recyclables or a single stream. Having to sort multiple streams on different lines means more people on the lines which costs more.

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