Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Green Way for Local Governments to Make More Money

Here's a blog post I've had rattling around my head for awhile but never got around to writing down due to more timely things like the Predators film popping up.

Due to the recession, a lot of local governments are running into financial problems and have had to make a lot of cuts, some of which are very painful.  In McDonough, where I live, the library is now closed on weekends and its hours when it is open are greatly truncated.  Although I can understand the financial pressues, this will make it harder for children in schools to do research and homework (especially if they don't have computers at home), make it harder for the unemployed to find work (especially if they don't have computers at home), and make it more difficult for particularly inqusitive children to learn on their own.

(One government entity I feel particularly obligated to is the Cobb County public library system, since it provided so many books for me to read at no cost to me personally.  Without them, I would not be as intelligent or well-read as I am today.)

And that's something that I'm aware of because it affects me personally.  I don't pay a lot of attention to McDonough politics (although I should, since I live here), so there're probably lots of other cuts that affect other people, especially if its jobs that are cut.

Now that I've pointed out the problem, onto the solution...

In the city of Griffin where I work, the city's solid waste department was historically a money-loser, needing large subsidies from the city's general fund.  The high end of these subsidies was $500,000 or even $1,000,000, depending on who you ask.  That's a LOT of money, which could be used to improve the city's infrastructure or for tax-cuts.

Then the city adopted both mandatory recycling and a flow-control ordinance in which all garbage collected within city limits had to go to the city's landfill or recycling center.

These two measures not only eliminated the losses Solid Waste actually incurred, but is slated to profit the city $75,000 in the next fiscal year.  It might be profitable already, since recyclables from McDonough, Jackson, and other cities were not budgeted and the fiscal year was not over when I wrote these stories.

(Re: flow-control, I'm not a big fan of monopolies on principle, but the garbage-collecting entities do use city resources to compete with the city.  What business aids and abets its competitors?  There's also the matter of accurately measuring the waste generated in the city, to satisfy the feds.)

If municipalities established mandatory recycling programs and, if they have the necessary facilities, a flow-control ordinance, this could provide a new revenue source in times of economic distress.  Granted, there will be an initial cost and it might prove problematic to get people to agree to mandatory recycling, but there's always the carrot of reducing or eliminating budget cuts in future years and property-tax reductions if it proves especially profitable.

(Francis told me over 2/3 of household waste is recyclable and given how much of my garbage I take to Griffin to throw out vs. how much I put in my apartment's trash-compactor, in some cases, it's even more than that.  There's a lot of waste to be recycled and, consequently, a lot of money to be made.)

There's also the long-term environmental benefits, but those are harder to quantify in terms of dollars and cents.  Sufficient to say, the more waste is recycled, fewer trees will be cut down and fewer mountains torn open to mine for minerals.

Perhaps I'll drop in on the Henry County Board of Commissioners (they're more responsible for funding the library) or the McDonough Board of Commissioners (it'd be easier for a city to mimic Griffin's program, since both are municipalities) and suggest this.  Or maybe write a letter to the Henry Herald.

Although this IS more government control (if the recycling program is mandatory, the only way to make it profitable), in my opinion, this is the lesser evil than vital services being cut.

What do you all think?


  1. Great post, Matt. You mentioned the resistance to mandatory recycling, and that was certainly true for Griffin (still is, to some degree). In fact, if you compare the numbers across the zones (Phil can give them to you), you will find some interesting correlations. I must say, however, that resistance to mandatory recycling is petty, belligerent, lazy and inconsiderate (to future generations). Griffin uses commingled (single-stream) recycling. It is unbelievably easy this way--put recyclables in one container and non's in another--no separating or sorting. At my house, we seldom have more than one small bag of trash in the outdoor container, while the recycling container is practically overflowing. I hope you do well on influencing McDonough/Henry Co toward recycling.

  2. Thanks. I'm not inclined to be a political activist on the issue, but it's not that hard to write a letter to the editor.

    What are these zones that you're referring to? There might be a story there.