Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who's costing us and why?

We attempt to hazard a rough guess in answering the question, how much are Philly businesses costing taxpayers by refusing to recycle?

Who's costing us and why?

A dumpster next to Finnigan’s Wake is seen filled with mixed trash, bottles and cardboard boxes, although businesses are required to recycle. (Phillip Lucas / Daily News Staff)
A dumpster next to Finnigan’s Wake is seen filled with mixed trash, bottles and cardboard boxes, although businesses are required to recycle. (Phillip Lucas / Daily News Staff)

Yesterday's Daily News had another fine installment in the "Pick it Up!" series, including a page on dealing with trash and litter, district by district (PDF) and a piece on how businesses' recycling violations cost the city.

We've talked before here about how Philly businesses need to take recycling seriously and how so far the majority don't seem to: As of this fall, only a quarter of the city's businesses have even filed their required recycling plans with the city, and this latest piece details solid evidence of at least some businesses utterly ignoring the mandate to recycle.

And here's how this report has room for improvement. Despite its being the central point, the amount of money this is costing Philly taxpayers is nowhere to be found, not even a ballpark estimate. While it's noted that "the city saves $54 on every ton of garbage that is recycled instead of going into a landfill or incinerator," no attempt is made at a grand total.

This is where we need It's Our Money to step in. After all, our city-finance blog is great at both obtaining and crunching numbers, and it quickly jumped right on a different question - how much Occupy Philly was "costing" the city as more police were scheduled to patrol their City Hall camping ground. For the first week the answer was around $32,000 a day, though the police department expected it to drop to $16.000 a day from the second week on. (Philly Clout had similar numbers after the first five days, about $32,000 per day.)

I'm sure it won't be 100% precise, but just for ballpark purposes, let's see what we can come up with in back-of-the-envelope terms using The Google...

6.6 million pounds of trash is being generated by the population of Philadelphia each day, according to Keep Philadelphia Beautiful. And NewsWorks tells us that "Commercial waste makes up about 60 percent of the city's waste stream." Putting these two together we get 3,960,000 million pounds of commercial trash per day, or 1980 tons.

If 100% of that were recyclable we could be losing $106,920 a day. But how much of the trash is recyclable? This is probably the biggest intangible. Looking around at some other locations, we see that, say, 73 percent of household trash in St. Petersburg could be recycled, while 90 percent of campus trash at the University of Nebraska can be recycled and 80 Percent of School Waste in Minneapolis Could Be Recycled. So for a guestimate on Philly businesses let's lowball all those and say 70 percent.

That gives us $74,844 a day if 100% of businesses were not already recycling. But It's Our Money says the biz rate is around 54%, or to turn it around, 46% are not recycling. Doing that math we find that by not doing so these businesses are costing Philadelphia taxpaers around $34,400 a day.

Hmmmm. I'm not going to get into the relative legality of flouting city recycling rules vs. flouting public camping rules - and I've already pointed out elsewhere that the Occupy movement has room for improvement - but at a rough glance it looks like Philly taxpayers have bigger, costlier problems on our hands from the business sector. As I said, it's a rough glance - I await the full report from the money experts.

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About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to

Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.

Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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