With town and county officials looking to collaborate on solid waste disposal and recycling, there’s increasing interest in changing the way individuals and institutions handle trash in Orange County.
County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier says it’s time to seriously consider a pay-as-you-throw system that charges households based on how much waste each generates.
“We know, from a psychological point of view, that paying for something makes people think about it,” says Pelissier. “Just like we got increased water conservation by having the tiered rates. People are now conscious that it’s a precious resource. What we have in our trash cans or recycling bins, that’s a precious resource as well, so we have to frame it very differently.”
Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade agrees. He says Carrboro is already investigating the feasibility of such a system, with an eye to rewarding residents who reduce their trash output.
“Personally, I’m interested in not just an individual, per-household pay-as-you-throw system- there’s some concern in the Town of Carrboro about the regressive quality of that,” says Slade. “There’s an opportunity, I feel, at the neighborhood level to incentivize the neighborhood to reduce its trash, then credit the neighborhood for it to use through participatory budgeting at the neighborhood scale.”
Though critics of pay-as-you-throw argue it can disproportionally impact low-income households, Orange County Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock says some elderly residents might actually benefit from the change.
“The predominant low-income family in our county is elderly and lives alone or has a small household,” says Pollock. “So people, like my mom, who live in this county benefit from pay-as-you throw. One could easily flip that argument on its head.”
Switching to a pay-as-you-throw system is part of a larger question of how the local governments can handle solid waste in a socially and environmentally just manner.
Now that the Eubanks Road landfill has closed, the towns and county are trucking trash to a waste transfer station in Durham. That trash ultimately ends up at a landfill in Sampson County.
Board of Commissioners candidate Mark Marcoplos visited the landfill to see firsthand the impact that has on the surrounding neighborhood. He says the largely low-income African-American community is suffering from the burden of Orange County’s trash.
“We’re in this situation where we’re patting ourselves on the back for finally providing social justice to the Rogers Road community and we’re actually affecting a community even worse over the horizon in Sampson County, so this is an issue we have to address,” says Marcoplos.
While some are pushing for the construction of a waste transfer station near Chapel Hill, Town Council member Jim Ward says ultimately, local governments will need to find a more permanent solution.
“I do think that if we go forward and see the need for a landfill, and I think there is one, I think it’s incumbent on us to put it in our own backyard and not be oblivious to it being transported to some impoverished neighborhood in Eastern North Carolina or Southern Virginia or wherever this stuff goes,” says Ward.
Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee says all stakeholders need to get together to come up with short and long-term solutions.
“I think that we’re going to need to look at this entire discussion of what we’re going to do with our trash, how we’re going to handle recycling, and we need to look at it in a comprehensive manner along with the towns.”
But once local governments work out a plan, McKee says they’ll need the political will to stick to it.
“I think its finally going to break down to having to devise a plan, then have the backbone to stand by that plan and put it into effect.”
The towns and county are in the process of hashing out a new interlocal agreement on solid waste. County commissioners will get their first look at the draft agreement on May 13.
Pelissier, Slade, Pollock, Ward, Marcoplos and McKee made those comments during the “Environment” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. You can listen to the full forum here.