EDITORIAL: Tattletale trash cans

Nanny-state spy chips watch your garbage

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In the never-ending quest to extract money from the public, municipal busybodies have turned to spying on your trash. Cleveland wants its residents to participate in the feel-good ritual of recycling. On Wednesday, the City Council voted to expand installation of radio-frequency identification (RFID) spy chips in everyone’s dumpsters to track the trash and eventually dish out $100 fines to anyone who fails to participate.

The town’s high-tech garbage trucks are capable of weighing each trash can as it is collected. Spy chips enable the system to track precisely how much and what kind of material each home disposes on a weekly basis. Should the recycled bin’s contents fail to meet an arbitrary threshold, municipal revenue agents can be dispatched to rummage through and assess the offending homeowner’s rubbish so the fines can be levied.

Cleveland - known as “the Mistake on the Lake” - is not alone. Locally, Arlington County, Alexandria, Frederick and Gaithersburg use the same spy chips, but these jurisdictions are not issuing tickets yet. Alexandria residents didn’t believe the claim that the ultimate goal wasn’t generating fines when the issue first came up in May. Alexandria officials insisted the primary purpose was tracking heretics who don’t embrace the city’s environmentalist agenda.

There’s good reason to doubt the wisdom of that agenda. Cleveland inked a deal with a firm that will pay $26 for each ton of recycled materials the city collects, generating an estimated $170,000 each year. It sounds like a great deal, until capital costs are factored into the equation. Because the new containers and equipment needed to track the garbage habits of residents cost $2.5 million, it will take 15 years to recoup the investment.

That’s just the start. Recycled material needs to be transported, sorted and prepared. New York City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) crunched the numbers in 2007 and concluded that it was 23 percent more expensive to collect recycled bins in the Big Apple. “Simply put, the cost of paying two uniformed sanitation workers to drive an eight-hour shift collecting recyclables is the same as the cost of paying them for an eight-hour shift collecting trash, but yields fewer tons of recyclables than the same shift would yield tons of refuse,” a 2004 IBO report explained. “The result is a higher average cost of collection per ton.”

Such numbers mean little to those who take it as an article of faith that their personal actions are “saving the planet.” The reality is that most of the items collected in the recycled bin end up in the same landfill as regular trash. Aside from aluminum, recycling makes little economic sense. Neither Cleveland nor the Washington suburbs has any interest in economic efficiency. They just like to tell people what to do. That’s why elected officials should rarely be recycled. Instead, at the first opportunity, voters should take care to replace council members who embrace spy chips with brand-new leaders who will respect individual freedom and common sense.

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