Our View: Time to put city’s blue bag recycling program in trash

Our View
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What’s blue, costs $60,000 a year and appears to have no discernable goal than to make people feel better about themselves? The blue bag recycling program in the city of Auburn. It’s time to end this feel-good form of environmentalism, and either put the $60,000 back in the pockets of ratepayers or toward programs that truly reduce the amount of material in the waste stream. An Auburn Journal story last week detailed the blue bag program, in which Recology (formerly the Auburn-Placer Disposal Service) provides city residents with blue bags to separate their recyclables from their weekly trash pickup. Bags are available upon request, and each residence is charged 54 cents a month to cover the service, whether they use the bags or not. Seems reasonable, right? Recycling has been the backbone of the environmental movement for 40 years, with “reduce” and “reuse” added to the language in the past decade. Problem is, some people are receiving more bags than they could ever fill with cans, bottles, plastic, newspaper, paper and tin. Some residents use the bags for other materials — or other, more artistic uses. One online Journal reader quipped that “I can make totes out of them by cutting strips and crocheting the plastic.” Problem is, the bags aren’t currently recyclable themselves. Recology’s own general manager said there is no market for the plastic the blue bags are constructed of. After being emptied, the bags join the rest of the city’s trash in the landfill. Problem is, the recyclables inside the bag are sorted at Recology’s Materials Recovery Facility, just like the rest of the trash. In its 2009 report, the Placer County Grand Jury agreed with the 2008 jury “that all Blue Bag programs (in the county) be eliminated … and determined the residents’ time, effort and expense were of marginal value to any of the jurisdictions’ recycling programs while additional costs were incurred in processing intact bags.” Problem is, the Auburn City Council, in its response to the grand jury’s recommendation last August, said the blue bag program “allows our citizens to participate in the recycling process at their home which naturally increases their awareness of solid waste issues.” The council immediately backed its words with a vote to continue the program. The council’s response would have been different if the $60,000 used to finance the blue bags came from general city coffers that pay for salaries, public safety, roads, sewers and other essential city services. As a pass-through to ratepayers, the decision didn’t impact the city fiscally, and allowed the council to cast a hollow vote for a program with little, if any, environmental value. City residents are getting a lousy return on investment. If the council is committed to spending $60,000 of ratepayers’ money, it should work with Recology to develop a stronger educational program that reduces solid waste. One thought would be to purchase the yellow, reusable Think Auburn First shopping bags and hand them out to city residents, thus reducing plastic and paper bags in the city’s trash. Another would be to stage a recycling expo in Central Square, and use donated bottles and cans to finance public art for the lonely pedestals. These ideas are a tad sarcastic, but they highlight the absurdity of a recycling program that is of “marginal value” at best. Coming up on the one-year anniversary endorsement for the blue bag program, the city council should rescind its support and vote to eliminate the program. And that’s no joke.