Mayor Bloomberg Weighs Cash for Trash

07/28/2010 02:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg is said to be mulling a charge for garbage pickups.

"Mulling" is a great word - it covers everything from an actual plan to a couple of folks shooting the breeze over lunch.

When something isn't happening, but could conceivably happen in the future, it's a mull. And it makes sense that they're thinking about it. Given the way the economy's been going, you'd expect the mayor to be pondering all sorts of revenue raising options. The city will have to cut services and lay off workers to close a $5 billion budget gap this year. If things get worse, you'd rather see Bloomberg charge for trash removal in 2012 than eliminate the third grade.

The plan City Hall is rumored to be ... contemplating ... would charge nothing for picking up properly sorted recyclables, thus increasing the incentive to separate those bottles and cans and aluminum foil wrap. Otherwise, the more you throw away, the more you'd be charged.

On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. A lot of towns already charge for trash removal. Commercial establishments pay. And it seems fair. If I carry a bag to the grocery store so I can avoid the plastic ones, reuse wrapping paper and shop for products with minimal packaging, shouldn't I be rewarded?

To be honest, I don't actually do any of those things. But trash removal fees might incentivize (love that word) me to behave better. I can't envision myself carrying around a shopping bag unless the penalty for excess trash was life in prison. But I'm all in favor of buying stuff with minimal packaging, and if there was an economic incentive to remind me, when I look for my next razor, to buy one that's not embedded in a ton of plastic, I bet I'd remember to do it.

Recently, when reporters asked random New Yorkers what they thought of the idea, they said they'd rather not pay. Duh. But beyond the obvious, there's one big problem. Rather than pay the excess fees, some people would foist their trash off on someone else. Maybe they'd sneak out in the dead of night and add their bags to the pile their neighbor has at the end of her driveway. Possibly they would abandon it on the side of the road or in a park.

In Manhattan, where I live, it's more likely that they'd try to stuff their personal home garbage in the trash receptacles on the street. Folks do that anyway, for reasons I've never fully comprehended. But if the plan Bloomberg is mulling away went into effect, they'd have ample incentives.

In crowded neighborhoods the trash receptacles would be overflowing all the time. There'd be no room for the things people are supposed to throw in there - wrapping from a sandwich they were eating while walking, a newspaper they read on the subway, dog poop that's been scooped.

Litter would escalate, at the exact time when the city's budget could least afford to hire more people to pick it up. The streets would look messy, creating the impression that no one was running the store. The sense that there's no one in control, law enforcement theorists tell us, leads to a rise in crime.

Before you know it, the bad old days would be back. Park your car on the street and
risk a break-in. Leave your home and risk a burglar. We'd all be cowering in our beds, just because Mayor Bloomberg over-mulled.

Let's nip this sucker in the bud.