Friday, October 9, 2009

"Do Not Disturb"

Ordinance #28-09 ("Pay As You Throw"-PAYT) moved along last night, winning approval by a 4-3 vote of the West Lafayette City Council.

The ordinance was born in May of 2008, when at a meeting of the city Budget & Finance Committee the possibility of a trash fee increase was floated. Objections were raised to simply raising our "trash tax", and a search began for a better way to manage trash and trash revenue.

The hope was that we could find a program which was:
1) Economically Sustainable - there had been no trash fee increase since 1993.
2) Environmentally Sustainable - recycling was increasing at only 1% a year.
3) Equitable - "based on the simple principle that garbage collection should be based on the same billing system as other utilities, that is, pay for what you use." (IDEM)

The Go Greener Commission and the Boiler Green Initiative gained the help of the Purdue "Engineering Projects in Community Service" (EPICS) program in this search. The EPICS group, with funding from Shell Oil, began a study (2008/09) to determine if some sort of metered trash program (PAYT) could work in West Lafayette.

The EPICS team of students and faculty advisers final report recommended a multi-tiered trash scheme which resembled programs set in place in East Lansing and Bloomington in the early 1990's. (About the time we last raised fees, other communities moved to a different model.) The plan included a base rate, an additional bag/can charge, and "free" brush and recycling pick-up.

The Go Greener Commission received the report, endorsed the principle, and set several committees to work on the issues involved in the implementation of a metered trash program. Ordinance #28-09 reflects those efforts.

A month ago city officials, even some who opposed its construction as untimely and expensive, stood by our new energy producing waste digester under the salutatory banner provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. We felt wise. We felt good, standing there by the electric car charging station along with those California environmental engineers.

That same EPA thinks metered trash is a good idea. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) thinks its a good idea. 7000 cities believe it's a good idea. Several of our Big Ten peers use the system.

Many of our friends and neighbors are not so sure. It's too complicated. It's too expensive. It's inconvenient.
It won't work.

Some of our divisions are familiar ones. Hoosiers and Boilermakers. Town and gown. Young and old. Even "Americans" vs "Foreigners" ( a leader of a local rental corporation regaled us, twice, with stories about foreign students flushing chicken bones, chicken breasts, down the toilet.) But the common thread in the opposition to PAYT was "leave me alone".

The current ordinance will be improved. I agree with Mayor Dennis who has noted the merits of the PAYT plan. The Mayor has also commented that PAYT can work here. He is committing city resources to create a sanitation department fiscal plan.

In the weeks and months ahead the "Do Not Disturb" sign will come down. The city is not flush. Most of our city officials draw parts of their salaries from the wastewater utility. We do not all have money. The Albrecht brothers built an "Aldi's" here, not one of their other chains; "Trader Joe's". Our environment is suffering. Forbes ranked Indiana 49th in environmental quality. The "Do Not Disturb" sign should stay down.

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