Another thought about those white recycling bins

I was giving a little more thought to the issue of the city’s decision to cut the white community recycling bins.

I did a little quick math, assuming that statistics thrown around by the city are correct.

The Department of Environmental Services website says 160,000 single family homes now have curbside recycling, with another 20,000 currently outside of the service area. The city decided that experimenting with how to service these additional homes is a higher priority than continuing the white bin program.

It seems to me the basic math calls that into question.

Curbside recycling at those 160,000 homes collects about 20,000 tons annually.

The additional 20,000 homes represent 1/8 of the number of homes that already have curbside pickup, so would be expected to increase the total amount of recycled material by the same proportion. This means extending curbside recycling to all single family homes would increase the total by 2,500 tons annually.

Compare that to the white bin program, which was bringing in 4,000 tons annually, or 60 percent more than the still theoretical expansion, according to the city’s statistics. An improved and more efficient community program would most likely expand that total.

Obviously this rough math isn’t a final answer, but it does suggest that supporters of the white bin program shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.

7 responses to “Another thought about those white recycling bins

  1. Ian, your armchair arithmetic is, indeed, too “basic” and “rough” for at least two reasons.

    First, as I understand it, the white bins no longer take in that 4,000 tons. Most is going into the automated pickup bins at the 160,000 homes serviced in that fashion.

    Second, the was paying out of pocket to sustain the bins which are generating

    • insufficient income for the contractor to keep servicing them. Using those funds to transition to automated pickup in the remaining 20,000 households will permit the City to eventually recycle more than with the bins due to the greater convenience.

      Or, at least this is the reasoning of longtime City recycling coordinator, Suzanne Jones, who has gotten us this far. Will you please get off your armchair and run your gripe past her or tell us why you can’t or won’t?

    • I just took the 4,000 ton figure from the November report filed with the city council. The figure used to be much higher.

  2. The white bins were a great idea initially, but they’ve enjoyed an unwarranted subsidy for years, mostly benefiting a single politically connected trash hauler.

    You ought to know better.

    What if that hauler is now making sure the stuff piles up at the bins to “justify” an even larger unwarranted subsidy that a notoriously unscrupulous friend and yet inexplicable media darling on the City Council helpfully embedded in next year’s budget?

    City taxpayers should not be forced to continue this giveaway just so a private trash hauler can rake in more money and you can feel good about yourself when you’re done with your latest wine bottle.

    Your commentaries on this issue have been naive, reckless, unfair, and uninformed, and Civil Beat was foolish to publish one.

  3. skeptical once again

    There is less newspaper produced nowadays, so those white recycling bins became repositories of cardboard, which is much lighter and less efficient to process. So the City has lost interest in supporting the program.

    Interestingly, old cardboard is worth quite a bit, and is the object of desire for thieves.

    What we need in Hawaii are more ‘thieves’ like this. All that cardboard is just sitting out there in those bins and no one is ‘stealing’ it to recycle it.

    One thing we could do is to bring in motivational speakers like Tony Robbins in order to energize and inspire potential thieves to get off the couch, get in their trucks, go down to their local white recycling bin and fill their beds with cardboard and take it to a recycling center.

    Another thing we could do is to put a refundable tax on cardboard boxes the way we do on soda cans and bottles — say, a 10 cent tax on all cardboard boxes, regardless of size (this would encourage economies of scale in terms of box usage). Then, those who return cardboard to recycling centers could be compensated at a higher rate.

    Is this recycling strategy too profit-oriented to appeal to an idealistic liberal like Ian Lind? Conversely, is it distasteful somehow to conservatives as well because it involves the word “tax”?

    Well, as President Obama would probably say (in private, of course), if it alienates all the ideologues, it’s probably the right policy.

    I say, if this policy is good enough for cans and bottles, it’s probably good for cardboard, too.

  4. skeptical once again

    Here’s a waste disposal policy that just might promote recycling. It’s called ‘Pay As You Throw’.

    Pay as you throw (PAYT) (also called trash metering, unit pricing, variable rate pricing, or user-pay) is a usage-pricing model for disposing of municipal solid waste. Users are charged a rate based on how much waste they present for collection to the municipality or local authority.

    A variety of models exist depending on the region and municipality. Waste is measured by weight or size while units are identified using different types of bags, tags or containers. Services for waste diversion, like recycling and composting, are often provided free of charge where PAYT systems are implemented.

    There are three main types of PAYT programs that remind me a bit of cell phone payment programs (prepaid vs. contract, overage charges, etc.).

    1. Full-unit pricing: Users pay for all the garbage they want collected in advance by purchasing a tag, custom bag, or selected size container.

    2. Partial-unit pricing: The local authority or municipality decides on a maximum number of bags or containers of garbage, with collection paid for taxes. Additional bags or containers are available for purchase should the user exceed the permitted amount

    3. Variable-rate pricing: Users can choose to rent a container of varying sizes (some programs offer up to five), with the price corresponding to the amount of waste generated.

    The primary purpose of PAYT is to disincentivize people from generating waste in the first place.

    The two most traditional approaches to disposing of municipal solid waste are a flat-rate system or municipal taxes. All users pay the same municipal taxes regardless of how much waste they present for pickup. Under the flat-rate system there is no link between “the actual costs for waste disposal and individual waste production,” so users do not consider the quantity of waste they produce.

    PAYT is based on two guiding principles of environmental policy: the polluter pays principle and the shared responsibility concept.

    The deeper rationales are the promotion of the economy, the environment and social justice.


    Under a PAYT scheme, some or all of the costs of waste management can be removed from property tax bills, providing more independence in the management and financial of residential waste system. Waste management services are then treated just like other utilities such as electricity or water that are charged by unit of consumption.


    PAYT programs are an effective tool in increasing waste separation and recycling, and also encourage waste minimization. The result is significant energy savings from transportation, increases in material recovery from recycling, and reduction in pollution from landfills and incinerators. PAYT programs also encourage producers to develop more efficient designs and environmentally friendly product life cycles.


    Waste collections costs are distributed more fairly among the population, and in proportion to the amount of waste each user generates. Free riders are no longer able to have their behavior subsidized, and PAYT is said to promote community sustainability. Household waste is “generally positively related to household income so poorer families are likely to face lower waste collection charges under PAYT systems.”

    Two initial problems with a PAYT system are 1) initial unpopularity, and 2) illegal dumping. In reality, neither of these concerns is a problem once PAYT is established.

    The results of a PAYT program in Taiwan are impressive. “As a result Taipei’s waste volume is down 35.08%, and recycling has increased 2.6-fold from 1999.”

    One question is whether a program like this could be phased in gradually, while the traditional payment method (property taxes) would get phased out over time.

    Another question is whether this would be a feasible model for other public services (e.g., road maintenance, sewers, etc.).

    • skeptical once again

      Here’s something related to my question of whether it is possible to have “pay as you go” roads.

      Free-market roads is the theory that a society should have entirely privately owned roads.

      Free-market roads are generally advocated by anarcho-capitalist works, including Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty, Morris and Linda Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty, David D. Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom, and David T. Beito’s The Voluntary City.

      One of the arguments of road privatization is that private roads would not suffer from the “free rider problem”, meaning those who don’t pay for the service could not use it.

      The free rider problem has been cited by some proponents as a reason for privatizing roads: since traffic congestion is the result of excess demand for transportation infrastructure, it may be treated as any other economic shortage – in this case, a shortage of roads, lanes, exits, or other infrastructure. Seeing the pricing mechanism of a free market as a more efficient means of meeting demand than government planning (see Economic calculation problem), Peter Samuel, in his book Highway Aggravation: The Case For Privatizing The Highways, compares American traffic jams and Soviet grocery store lines:

      “In Russia communism’s failure was epitomized by constant shortages in stores. Empty shelves in supermarkets and department stores and customers in line, wasting hours each week, became the face of the system’s failure, as well as a source of huge personal frustration, even rage. Communism failed because prices were not flexible to match supply and demand; because stores were bureaucracies, not businesses; and because revenues went into a central treasury and did not fuel increased capacity and improved service. We in supposedly capitalistic America suffer communism–an unpriced service provided by an unresponsive monopolistic bureaucracy–on most of our highways. Our manifestation of shortage, our equivalent of Russian lines at stores, is daily highway backups. There is no price on rush-hour travel to clear the market. There is no revenue stream directly from road users to road managers to provide incentives either to manage existing capacity to maximum consumer advantage or to adjust capacity to demand.”

      This is a peculiar argument to me, and the extreme way it is phrased (comparing the road system to the Soviet economy) seems symptomatic of this peculiarity.

      Every region has businesses, and those businesses desire traffic. Shopping malls, for instance, want customers from all over. The privatization of all roads might be expected to curtail traffic congestion and solve the free rider problem on the roads, but don’t most citizens want some free riders on our roads (especially tourists)?

      Another argument given is that “Competition will motivate better service than is provided by regional monopolies”. No mention is made of what those services are, however.

      “Privatization will encourage infrastructure construction”. Again, no mention is made of examples of this working. It is mentioned that “The book Street Smart claims that Brazil has saved 20 percent and Columbia 50 percent through efforts to outsource road maintenance to the private sector.” That sounds plausible, but does not represent the encouragement of construction.

      “Free market roads facilitate internalization of external costs”.

      A private company can more easily be held accountable for negative effects of the highway than that if it is publicly owned. For example, residents living next to urban highways will benefit from noise barriers. However, campaigning for the city council to erect the walls is often ineffective and the process can take years, since the council needs to divert funding from other more pressing projects. A private highway will try to avoid court action and feel more obliged to cater for residents. The cost of erecting the walls will be passed on directly to the drivers (who are causing the noise), rather than the general public.

      This falls under the rubric of social justice, in the sense that the PAYT program compels those who use the service to be the ones to pay for it. However, no mention is made of examples of this.

      An interesting argument is that “Private roads couldn’t use eminent domain”.

      In 2006, eminent domain authority was stripped from private highway developers in Colorado due to concerns over abuses. Cato rebutted the potential for eminent domain abuse, noting that “In California the state highway agency approved private development of the Mid-State Tollway on the eastern fringe of the San Francisco-Oakland area. Bay area residents, however, strongly opposed the tollway and favored of a Bay Area Rapid Transit line built nearby to serve the area. As a result, the highway developer abandoned the northern leg of the project. Had a public agency been building the highway, it could have invoked eminent domain authority to build the road in spite of political opposition.”

      Toll Road Investors Partnership II CEO E. Thomas, in testimony before the State Corporation Commission, said that the lack of eminent domain power required developers to “acquire necessary property through private means, which was a costly and time consuming exercise for the private investors in the Greenway.”

      This argument appeals to both those who would want to limit development and those who want to limit government power. Moreover, there has also been an outcry against eminent domain by both liberals concerned with corporate control and conservatives who fear government abuse after the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision. From the wiki on eminent domain:

      The Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) affirmed the authority of New London, Connecticut, to take non-blighted private property by eminent domain, and then transfer it for a dollar a year to a private developer solely for the purpose of increasing municipal revenues. This 5-4 decision received heavy press coverage and inspired a public outcry that eminent domain powers were too broad. In reaction to Kelo, several states enacted or are considering state legislation that would further define and restrict the power of eminent domain. The Supreme Courts of Illinois, Michigan (County of Wayne v. Hathcock (2004)), Ohio (Norwood, Ohio v. Horney (2006)), Oklahoma, and South Carolina have recently ruled to disallow such takings under their state constitutions.

      The argument for privatization of transit options might therefore be appealing across the political spectrum in an age when so much policy conforms to neither the traditional left or right. (The Supreme Court today is said to be ‘conservative’, but the Kelo decision reveals that the current Supreme Court is really idiosyncratic — which is not what is to be expected from the legal profession, which is founded on tradition and precedent.)

      “Free market roads will have less crime”. This is the argument for privatizing Fort Street Mall downtown, and it does have some plausibility. However, the argument is made is much too idealized.

      Bruce L. Benson argues that when roads are privately owned, local residents will be better able to prevent crime by exercising their right to ask miscreants to leave. He observes that avenues in the private places of St. Louis have been shown to have lower crime rates than adjacent public streets. The Market for Liberty further argues that private roads will be better policed as the owners focus on serious crime rather than on victimless offenses:

      A private corporation which owned streets would make a point of keeping its streets free of drunks, hoodlums, and any other such annoying menaces, hiring private guards to do so if necessary. It might even advertise, “Thru-Way Corporation’s streets are guaranteed safe at any hour of the day or night. Women may walk alone with perfect confidence on our thoroughfares.” A criminal, forbidden to use any city street because all the street corporations knew of his bad reputation, would have a hard time even getting anywhere to commit a crime.

      On the other hand, the private street companies would have no interest in regulating the dress, “morals,” habits, or lifestyle of the people who used their streets. For instance, they wouldn’t want to drive away customers by arresting or badgering hippies, girls in see-thru blouses or topless bathing suits or any other non-aggressive deviation from the value standards of the majority. All they would ask is that each customer pay his dime-a-day and refrain from initiating force, obstructing traffic, and driving away other customers. Other than this, his life-style and moral code would be of no interest to them; they would treat him courteously and solicit his business.

      That sounds like a libertarian fantasy. First, it would be extremely hard to identify professional criminals (who specialize in deception), and, second, people who do not conform to outward social norms such as dress are almost immediately harassed and expelled when they are on private property.

      Finally, “Free market roads will encourage small business”. This is an interesting argument, and perhaps plausible.

      Mutualist Kevin Carson argues that transportation is a natural diseconomy of scale. The cost of transportation increases disproportionately with the size of a firm; in a free market, there would be strict upper limits to the size and power of corporations, and small businesses would have natural advantages. Government subsidies to transportation, however, make large, centralized corporations artificially profitable, contributing to corporate dominance of the economy. Carson points out that in many cases, centralized industry did not develop until after the advent of taxpayer-funded roads and other transportation projects.

      So, without big transportation projects, there would be less in the way of big corporations dominating the economy (and thus dominating the society and the political system). But I wonder if this would be what politicians, bureaucrats and Big Labor would want. Moreover, these groups ultimately control society via coalitions (“iron triangles”).

      In sum, ultimately, I am not convinced of this idea of privatizing all roads.

      However, I think the argument could be made that neighborhoods, and not the state or the county, should pay to build and maintain the neighborhood’s roads.

      Rural suburbs in particular are living way beyond their means. When the price of oil drops, fringe suburbs pop up far from town; when the price of oil rises, they get abandoned as people move into town. Subsidizing suburban sprawl is simply using up resources and feeding further inevitable foreclosures. Cultural conservatives who want that kind of suburban lifestyle choice need to pay for more of it (they need to be more fiscally conservative in their own lives).

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