Taxing trash

Taxing trash


Our new hometown of Holbrook is one of the smallest municipalities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in both population and land area. It’s a classic New England small town, with a representative town meeting, which sounds like fun. Maybe I’ll run.

There are lots of small-town changes to get used to, but one there’s one I want to point out. Trash disposal has become an expensive problem for cities and towns, large and small. Most just bite the bullet, pay exorbitant fees, and spread the pain among all property owners, large and small, however much trash they actually produce. But Holbrook has come up with a solution that—while it seemed initially to be a pain—is actually quite fair.

In this town, your trash will only be picked up if it’s in a special blue trash bag, marked “Town of Holbrook” that you can can buy in local stores. The bags cost about $3 each, which sounds like a lot for a trash bag, but is quite economical for trash disposal.

What we have here is, in fact, a consumption tax. If you’re someone who doesn’t recycle and who creates lots of trash, then you pay for the waste you produce, whereas people like the elderly folks who live around me who throw away maybe half a bag per week pay only for their consumption. And if you don’t like the systems at all, you can pay a private contractor to take it all away for you, no special bags required.

Yes, there are inconveniences. Making sure that everything you throw out ends up in the blue bag can be tiresome. We’re still using regular kitchen trash bags for everyday use and then putting two of those in one of the big town bags. And I understand that just before we moved in the price of the bags doubled from $1.50 to $3. That could be a bit of sticker shock.

But the idea is itself a fairly conservative, small government way of doing things. You often find that on the local level, even in a very liberal area like eastern Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Flickr user feministjulie via a Creative Commons license.

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  • That would be okay with me.  I don’t throw out much, but when I do remodeling projects or clean out closets, I sometimes feel a bit like a mooch.  The blue trash bags would get rid of that.

    I think I’ll stick with my private trash though.  Most of the KC suburbs, though not the city proper, have gone that route.  I like being able to change carriers when I get poor service or find a better rate.  I also like that I can choose to support the mom-and-pop (literally, the owner picks up my trash with his sons every Saturday morning) in my town, which I will probably do even if they get more expensive.  Right now, though, I get the best of both worlds because I’m supporting a family-run business AND they charge me half what my previous company charged me.

  • We have the blue bags in Natick. They are $1.75 apiece. I try to recyle everything. It makes aware of how much you toss.

  • How did they get through in Massachusetts?  Since the charge is proportional to the volume your trash occupies, people with trash compactors (rich people, boo, hiss) have an advantage.

  • Interesting idea. We do live in a throw-away society (at many levels if you know what I mean).

    The amount of food that we throw away is disconcerting too, especially at schools and restaurants. My wife started working as a lunch mom at a local elementary school and she has observed that about half of the food ends in the trash. 

    This is a failure in regards to respect for creation.


  • There’s nothing “small government” about any tax, but more than this, the law will punish larger households and reward singles and the childless.  My guess is that it is in part designed to do so.  Not sure why that’s supposed to be considered conservative, especially since leftists have been itching to impose taxes like this one on the “selfish breeders” forever now.

    You ought to think harder about the implications of this kind of thing.

  • The law does not punish families and reward singles anymore than a flat property tax rate punishes families with multiple-bedroom homes and rewards singles who live in apartments and cottages.

    The tax is based on nothing more than consumption. If you use more, you end up spending more. Don’t like the cost? Throw away less, like my family is doing.

    What would be regressive is charging a flat $500 annual trash fee on everyone, regardless of how much trash they created. Why should my family subsidize the childless couple living in the McMansion who doesn’t recycle and buys a ton of consumer goods in throwaway packaging?