‘Savings’ shell game

A recent story in the Bangor Daily News touting the savings in Brewer from a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) trash bag scheme told only half the story. In fact, it was little more than a town official rehashing a press release from the company that manufactures the bags and sells them to towns all over Maine for double what an average trash bag would cost.

According to the release from WasteZero, Brewer saved some $370,000 in waste disposal costs over five years. That works out to about $75,000 per year. What was omitted, however, was that Brewer residents paid more than $165,000 a year to buy the bags, when you add up what the town received plus WasteZero’s cut. That’s a cost increase of $90,000 a year to the citizens. Sure, the town saved money. WasteZero made money. But the people who pay the bills have considerably less in their wallets.

Also, when looking at the Brewer program, it should be noted that the town offers its residents municipal trash pickup and a comprehensive zero-sort recycling program that helps them need fewer bags. Both of those practices are not part of the solid waste disposal system in Bar Harbor where PAYT has been proposed.

At a town council meeting last week, supporters of PAYT, who earnestly want to see the town lower its trash volume, suggested a six-month trial period, beginning in November. The idea is problematic, however, in that it will amount to government double dipping – people will be required to purchase bags after already paying property taxes to fully fund the regular collection system.

Also, large seasonal commercial establishments that generate much of the town’s annual solid waste tonnage will be closed during most of the test period. A true gauge needs to include how the system works for commercial customers at high season, not in the dead of winter.

Finally, without a corresponding major increase in recycling opportunities, the results would not accurately predict possible future outcomes.

Bar Harbor, like every community, should take every opportunity to encourage recycling, composting, reuse and making smart purchasing decisions. Why not start with educating the public and doing more of that, instead of imposing the iron fist of PAYT, which in many cases only shifts costs and does not actually lower them.

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