Higbie: PAYT – Force or persuasion for reducing waste?

Letter to the editor from Carl Higbie

The debate about whether the town that just banned plastic bags, should now mandate you to buy “special” plastic bags, wages on.

In an effort to bridge the gap on this issue and seek a reasonable solution, both economically and environmentally, I have spent a fair amount of time meeting with people on both sides. It is universally agreed that we should be thoughtful of our environment and try to reduce waste; FULL STOP.

Let me be clear, opponents of “Pay as You Throw” (PAYT) are not anti-environment and the attempt to portray us as such is what polarizes the argument and pushes the sides farther apart.

I recently met with a Greenwich based group that is advocating for composting and leans toward PAYT as the solution to reducing waste.

While it was a very good conversation, I realized that the two sides, while desirous of the same result, have diametrically opposed views on how to achieve that goal.

As with everything, you can achieve a change in behavior (in this case reducing waste) one of two ways; you can force people, or you can persuade people.

Make no mistake, the PAYT program is force, supported by the progressive left view that waste reduction is morally correct and therefore must be mandated by government to tax us poor rubes into compliance.

It is a government mandate that under penalty of law, forces you to purchase a product/service, which in practical effect penalizes you for producing waste. The proponents of PAYT say the ends justify the means. I strongly disagree.

It becomes a slippery slope when you attempt to govern in such a way, specifically imposing your moral view on others through force. By doing so you undermine the fundamental principal that we as Americans enjoy; the right to Liberty. Moreover, what is the limiting principle here? Today’s trash bag is tomorrow’s [insert any contested thing/behavior here].

Remove emotion for a minute and imagine if the government was forcing you to purchase something you didn’t agree with for “the greater good.” “The government shouldn’t force me to do something I’m are not comfortable with!” and you are right. What if it mandated you buy a different car, or forced you to purchase solar panels for your house? On the other side, what if they forced you to buy a firearm? Where does it end? This type of policy is just the tip of the progressive iceberg.

Reducing waste is an important public issue. However, beyond my conceptual objections, PAYT is a regressive tax that places an undue burden on Greenwich citizens while lining the pockets of trash haulers.

It should raise red flags for every resident that there is only one town in all of Connecticut that uses PAYT, while every other simply uses a tipping fee.

The economic rationale against PAYT is crystal clear for most residents and using the alternative tipping fee also reduces the obvious conflict of interest optics in town hall.

Here is my offer to those in favor of PAYT. Rather than force, let’s use persuasion. Our environment is an important shared resource. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in an advocacy initiative to the educate people on waste reduction. I will support your composting
effort (at the dump, not in urban areas) and will work to get people on “my side” to produce less waste.

But I will never agree to another tax on my constituents to force an outcome, nor will I support any group that does. I certainly will never think giving as much as 30% of said tax to a private company to sell me a stupid bag is a good idea. And it’s not “just one little thing” (as I have been told by many). This is the creeping gradualism of government expansion and as a member of the RTM I will fight it.

For advocates of this program, I can be a formidable opponent or an effective ally with a massive base of support, if this is about the environment as you say you should choose to work with me rather than against.

Finally to the original problem of revenue needed to offset the cost of trash? The number of bureaucrats involved in this PAYT debacle have salaries totaling far greater than our trash disposal bills, perhaps we can start there…or go with Tipping fees like almost EVERY other town in our area.