Don't Trash This Good Idea
Call me a contrarian, but here's yet another unpopular tax I'm in favor of: charging Philly residents per trash bag. I was talking to a friend of mine who works in the Managing Director's office, and he explained the mechanics to me: you buy as many City-certified bags as you need, can only leave out trash in those bags, and recycling is free. As far as enforcement, there's no incentive to dump your bags in front of your neighbor's house, because you've already paid for the bags.
There's still the very big problem of the City having to monitor that people weren't illegally dumping trash elsewhere; and you probably have to do something to counter-balance the regressivity of this "tax," in that it hurts the pockets of the poor more than the rich. But on its face, this idea seems to make perfect sense. After all, there's a big difference in cost to the City if I leave one bag out on Tuesday morning or ten, in terms of trash guys having to grab them, trucks having to move them, and dumps having to hold them. Making trash a variable cost for households creates an incentive to reduce trash in the first place, and to divert as much of what is created that can be recycled into recycling.
Apparently, at a dollar or two a bag, you're looking at getting yourself up to halfway to plugging the $1 billion hole in the next five-year budget. Of course, most of the calls to the City, and most of the people interviewed for this news story, were overwhelmingly against such a move. Too bad: it's not often you can increase revenues, decrease costs, and save the environment all in one fell swoop.