Trash-talkin'

This week, more than a month after the mayor's trash-fee idea was offically put forward, trash, and its proper disposal, seems to be the talk of the town.

A long-awaited expose on the Big Belly solar-compacting trash cans that now litter Center City (ha!) arrived on Wednesday from the pens of Catherine Lucey and Emily Schultheis, and uncovered the fact that the cans are... working perfectly, saving the city money in less-frequent collections by compacting the trash as it adds up. And more are coming:

Another 440 Big Bellies - dubbed for the company that manufactures them - are being installed this spring and summer in commercial districts throughout the city, along with 185 recycling cans.

That "along with" phrase packs an untold story. When the Big Bellies first appeared about a year ago, I chastised an anonymous woman for tossing a potato-chip bag into the recycling bin alongside the trash portion instead of putting it in its proper receptacle. But having now spent many instances walking up to one with my hands full or otherwise not in the mood to touch a greasy handle in order to throw away some small piece of trash, I gotta ask: Why is the recycling portion of these double units a simple hole to toss into while the trash part requires several hydraulic-oriented movements to accomplish? Seems to me that making throwing trash away easier, rather than harder, would be a boon to a city that's launched multiple anti-litter campaigns and still finds trash lying around all over town.

This recycle-vs-toss issue, and its intersection with littering, comes to the fore in a City Howl Help Desk column about getting ticketed for not separating recyclables. Setting aside the focus, which is that the person in question says it wasn't even her trash that spurred a ticket, let's note the fact that she "wasn't aware of city recycling procedures, such as which items must be recycled." Hmmmm, if only the, cough, Greenest City in America would do a concerted, accessible, Web-friendly public-education campaign on exactly what to recycle and how, more people might actually participate in this initiative, leading to less trash to pick up (both from people's residences and off the street).

And after all that, what of the trash fee itself? In an unrelated story we learn that "Council seems to have rejected the trash-fee plan. Many members prefer a proposal to raise property taxes."

As Ronnie Polaneczky pointed out back when the trash fee was just a rumor, it's not enough to punish or tax people for generating trash. The trash is going to get created, and it's going to get discarded somewhere, somehow. What's needed is a comprehensive policy to minimize trash by boosting recycling awareness and incentivizing its adoption. Philly's recent strides in the latter area are to be commended, but the simple mechanisms of making throwing the right thing away in the right place both easy and comprehensible could make all the difference.

UPDATE 4/16: Ben Ditzler of RecycleNOW Philadelphia sends along, "hot of the presses," a very handy flyer from Niche Recycling that goes a long way toward what I'm talking about above. While the content and presentation is good, though, it needs to get into the hands of all Philadelphians. That's the kind of thing the city administration should be handling and/or funding.

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