Monday, January 4, 2010

Go Green, or Give us Your Green

Last week the city announced that it will delay a new ordinance forcing residents to use biodegradable bags for leaves and yard debris. Apparently, while the city can compel residents to go green, it can't use the same coercive methods on retailers--the required bags are currently only available at Walmart and Kroger.

The city claims that this mandatory measure will save money, but just how much depends on which report you read. The Chronicle says the city will save $2 million a year, while KHOU reports an estimated savings of $1.5 million annually. I am not opposed to the city saving money--it certainly wastes enough of the loot it steals from us. But it doesn't take a CPA to see just how pathetically dishonest this claim is.

I will assume that the city's Solid Waste department services 200,000 homes (I couldn't find a specific number, but based on numbers I could find this seems like a very reasonable number). This means that each household will save $10 per year (or less) in fees, or less than 20 cents per week. The bags required by the city cost at least 10 cents more than their non-green counterparts. A household that has 2 bags of yard waste per week will break even.

I have at least 2 bags of yard waste every week, even during the winter when the grass isn't growing and I am doing no pruning or other maintenance. For most of the year, 4 or 5 bags is common, and during leaf season 20 or more bags is not unusual. In other words, I am going to spend a lot more on these stupid bags than I will ever save in fees. But the city's dishonesty goes beyond merely economics.

The Chronicle story states that:
City officials predict that the change will result in the diversion of 60,000 tons of organic material from local landfills...
Are we to believe that fewer leaves will fall simply because city council has mandated green lawn bags? I doubt that even city officials think that they have that kind of power. So where is all that rotting organic material going to go? The city hasn't addressed this, but apparently they think that Houstonians will turn into rabid composters. Indeed, the Chronicle editorial on Saturday states:
For those unwilling to pay more, there's a simple backyard solution. Just compost the trimmings in a bin or a wire enclosure, and use it to build up your lawns and gardens.
I'm not opposed to composting. In fact, I suspect that I have the largest intentional compost pile in my neighborhood. (I say intentional because I have a few neighbors who seem to throw everything into one huge pile. Given that the pile includes tires, plastic, and similar materials, I do not think that they are building a compost pile. But I digress.) I like compost. I have spent a lot of money buying compost.

However, if I tried to compost every piece of organic material generated on my property, it would cover the entire lot. Not only would I have no need for compost, as there would be no room for grass or shrubs or flowers, I would likely need a permit from the city for such a giant composting facility. So, even though I am one of the more "compost conscious" home owners in my neighborhood, I am not going to "divert" much from the landfill.

The city's mandate that we use biodegradable bags is simply a measure to "prod" us into behavior that city officials deem desirable. Rather than be honest about their intentions, they use the smoke screen of saving money.

If the city wants to save money on waste collection, I suggest that it get out of the waste collection business. In fact, I suggest that it get out of the water, park, and library businesses as well.

Government's proper purpose is the protection of our rights, not the collection of our trash, or the provision of parks and libraries. When government engages in activities beyond the protection of our rights, it must necessarily use force against the citizenry. It must violate our rights to compel compliance with its edicts or force us to pay for services that we do not use. And it usually prohibits competition, leaving residents with no choice but to tolerate the city's poor service and arbitrary rate increases.

I violate nobody's rights by putting my leaves in a black bag made of petroleum products. But the city has declared me--and everyone else--a criminal if I do so. Consider the penalty for violating this particular ordinance--fines will range from $50 to $2,000. Which means, the "atrocity" of putting your leaves in a bag of the wrong color could cost you dearly. The city has made its position clear: Go green, or give us your green.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of this post. I had not heard of this new biodegradable bag program being implemented until recently. While I understand the implications of using plastic bags in landfills, like the previous post says there is no way I'd have enough room to compost all material generated from my property and I highly doubt any more Houstonians will. Despite what the city claims, these new bags will cost more in the end. If they wanted to make the law work they'd provide free bio bags (perhaps increase water fees to pay for it lol). I suspect most Houstonians will ignore the new bag law and begin dumping yard clippings in their regular trash bins for collection. Yes, it may be against the law but I've never seen a trash police inspecting my bin. I'm sure the city will claim the new law works when less bags of yard waste appear on the curb; however, they won't account for the "illegal" waste in regular bins. I can see it now in Houston's next marketing campaign "Houston...the most composted city in the U.S."