If you start with the assumption that no one wants to pay for trash collection, its easy to see why a proposed increase in Portland’s price for pay-as-you-throw trash bags is coming under fire.

In the proposed budget, Portland residents would have to pay more every time they put a bag of trash on the curb, while they could continue to recycle for free. The added cost of the bag would be charged to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, and would not come with any additional service, leading some members of the City Council to call it a nonstarter.

But if the council is serious about limiting the size of a tax increase, raising the price of the trash bags is a reasonable response.

A lesson of the recession is that when the economy declines, people produce less garbage. This is true for both trash and recycled waste.

That indicates that, unlike a tax rate or property value, people have some control over how much they pay for trash collection. People who produce more trash should pay more.

Curbside recycling also gives city residents control over how much they pay. People who take the time to learn the rules and separate their trash can cut their disposal bill. Currently, one third of the city’s waste goes to recycling. That would be much higher if people took fuller advantage of the program.

The pay-per-bag system was introduced as a way to cover the cost of curbside recycling. The trash collection budget has roughly been split between taxes and the bag revenue.

Even with an increase in the price of trash bags, the 50-50 split between taxpayers and trash bag users remains intact, with $1.6 million of the $3.3 million budget coming from taxes.

Increasing the price of city trash bags is a reasonable way to balance the loss of other revenues and to balance this budget.


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