Pay As You Throw


A November 17 Monitor article reported that the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) was considering a “pay as you throw” (PAYT) option for trash pickup. PAYT attempts to change behavior by making current behavior more expensive than the behavior preferred by the ESB. This is clear from the statement in the article that “the first priority involves encouraging residents to change behaviors”.  This does not agree with my experience with recycling in Los Alamos. As a past member of the old Solid Waste Board, I asked the manager of the curbside recycling company what was the biggest problem with working with Los Alamos. His answer was that the residents were “over zealous” putting too many non-acceptable items in the collection bins. I believe the residents of Los Alamos are more than willing to recycle given the outlets to do so.


The curbside recycling program has always been restrictive with significant limitations on plastics and cardboard (no cereal or cracker boxes). Over the last dozen years, the outlets for recycling in the county seem to have decreased. Glass was dropped from the curbside program. The used lumber put-and-take pile and the trailer for collecting building materials for Habitat for Humanity were removed from the landfill. I understand that the composting operation near the Eco Station has been discontinued.  All of these were done for sound reasons. Nonetheless, they decreased opportunities for recycling.


Similarly, there has been a decrease in the capacity of the local thrift shops. Casa Mesita moved to a smaller building limiting their ability to handle large items. I have been turned away from thrift shops both here and in Santa Fe more than once because they were overloaded or not handling specific items.


Before instituting PAYT, I recommend the ESB do everything possible to open up more recycling outlets. A county-operated reuse center near the Eco Station would be an excellent addition. The reuse center would have to be staffed to be successful and avoid the problems that killed the used lumber put-and-take and the building materials trailer.  I also recommend that the ESB members visit some communities that recycle a wider variety of materials and find out how they do it. Park City, Utah would be a good place to visit. Apart from the great skiing, they have a staffed community recycling center takes a wide variety of materials and is combined with a reuse operation, all done in a pretty small area.


Finally, rather than being shocked and reacting to specific items that show up at the Eco Station, I recommend that the ESB accumulate data on the composition of the material passing through the Eco Station and use that data to focus recycling and waste avoidance efforts. Years ago, the Solid Waste Board prepared a request for proposals (RFP) to have a contractor evaluate what was going into the landfill, the data to be used to direct improvements in the recycling program. A good number of consultants with experience with this task were found, but the RFP was never let because of funding limitations. Perhaps the money can now be found.