Re: curbside -Reply

Bill Carter (
Fri, 08 Oct 1999 16:49:44 -0500

Dr. McGowan and I covered some of this territory several months ago, so =
please forgive us if this sounds familiar.

Dr. McGowan wrote:
*What Jesse fails to mention is that PAYT is an incredibly REGRESSIVE tax =
on the poor. . . .*

PAYT is neither a tax nor is it regressive. =20
1. PAYT actually removes the funding mechanism for garbage services from =
the tax base, or from a flat fee system which is very much like a tax, and =
turns it into a user fee. Like any other user fee, people pay according =
to how much they use the service, usually after covering their share of =
the base cost of the system. =20
2. Full cost accounting of waste services has shown that well-integrated =
curbside recycling programs are not *add-on* costs to the garbage system, =
but rather they are a separate handling system that removes part of the =
burden from the garbage system. Often * if not usually -- a garbage =
service plus curbside program can be provided at essentially the same cost =
as garbage collection/disposal alone. There is legitimate debate =
regarding how often and to what degree this is the case, since there is no =
central auditing service for garbage systems, and accounting practices =
differ widely. Examples and counter-examples of the cost-effectiveness of =
curbside recycling could be offered ad nauseum. However, it is NOT =
reasonable to argue that a curbside recycling program does NOTHING to =
reduce the cost and risk of providing a community*s garbage collection and =
disposal service and to ask it to *pay for itself* as a stand-alone =
system. =20
3. Assuming you build the base cost of providing curbside recycling into a =
garbage fee, the recycling service almost always costs LESS the MORE =
people use it (unless recyclable materials must be unloaded at a cost =
higher than landfilling). In other words, except in pathologically =
ill-designed recycling systems, when people put more of their materials =
out for recycling and less out for garbage, the cost of the overall system =
goes down. So, charging extra for the use of the recycling service gives =
a price signal opposite to the one you want to give. Once the curbside =
program is in place, people REDUCE the cost of the overall garbage service =
by using the curbside system MORE. So in fact it would be fair, if not =
practical, to offer DISCOUNTS to customers for their use of the recycling =
service rather than CHARGING them to do so.
4. PAYT is not regressive. *Regressive* means that poor people pay more =
of a tax than wealthy people, in proportion to their income. Again, PAYT =
is not a tax, and *regressive* is a term meant to be applied to taxes, not =
user fees. Any utility fee (water, sewer, electric, gas, etc.) could be =
called *regressive* in that it does NOT go up in direct proportion (or =
more) to a household*s income or wealth. That said, household waste =
production generally INCREASES with wealth, with a few exceptions =
involving very large families or people who collect and rummage through =
castaway items. The elderly poor and certain other low-income groups are =
exceptionally low waste producers. (Bill Rathje*s research is probably =
still the most comprehensive on these topics.) Also, local governments =
often *subsidize* the waste produced in low-income areas through =
needs-based rate concessions (common to most utility services) and =
sometimes also through clean-up and *trash amnesty* programs targeting =
low-income areas. So, a standard PAYT fee, based in part on the amount of =
garbage disposed, can hardly be called unfair or oppressive to the poor as =
it is typically practiced. On the contrary, it follows the fundamental =
fairness principal of paying for what you get.

Dr. McGowan goes on to say:

*. . . an incredibly REGRESSIVE tax on the poor, who can ill-afford =
products that are specially packaged in recycled-content packaging. One =
of the great ironies of the recycling movement is that political forces =
that created government prefernec programs put aboslutely zero effort into =
making sure that recycled content products get preference when they are =
cost competitive. Since there is no incentive to lower prices of recycled =
content packaging--why should manufacturers give up a profit the government=
is creating set-asides for?--the cost of recycled content material is =
often more expensive than virgin materials.*

It is not ironic but baffling to suggest that any effort is required to =
make sure that *recycled content products get preference when they are =
cost-competitive.* Government purchasing policies always provide for some =
degree of competition and give preference to low price where all other =
criteria are equal. Whether recycled-content preferences are in the form =
of *set-asides* or price preferences, there is always cost-competition =
among the producers of a category of recycled products to secure the =
government sale or to offer a competitive price on the agency=27s contract =
purchasing list. The only exception might be where the production of a =
class of recycled-content products is controlled by such a small number of =
producers that they can succeed in and benefit from colluding to fix =
prices. There appears to be adequate competition in response to the =
purchasing preference programs I have been familiar with. Even if there =
isn*t, there is nothing in the purchasing policies themselves to interfere =
with a lower-cost producer who wants to underbid an overpriced recycled-con=
tent merchant. Finally, this only concerns governmental or industrial =
purchasing programs. How do such purchasing programs place poor people in =
the position of being forced to buy over-priced recycled-content packaging?=
If anything, such programs create a base market for recycled-content =
goods and helps these goods to be produced at lower cost due to economies =
of scale. If they are somehow sold to the government at inflated prices, =
any production over and above that needed to fill the government purchases =
can be offered on the wholesale/retail market at discount prices and the =
scoundrels can still make a profit. Again, however, I have not seen =
evidence of such abuses and encourage Dr. McGowan to reveal any he is =
aware of.

Bill Carter