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)

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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