A few bad bags aside, Stonington trash program works

The U.S. is part of a throwaway society. Each one of us generated 4.4 pounds of trash per day in 2013, according to the most recent figures available from the US Environmental Protection Agency. That’s 1.72 pounds more than what we each generated in 1960.

Producing less garbage via reuse and recycling has environmental and economic benefits. It reduces the use of raw materials, cuts pollution and saves energy. But who is thinking about such weighty things when tossing out the garbage?

That’s the point. It has been shown that when we do think more about our trash, we produce less of it.

The Town of Stonington has witnessed this firsthand with its very sensible and successful pay-per-bag garbage plan, implemented in 1992. The small recent glitch in that program that had some howling about bags of inferior quality does not negate the program’s positives. Residents should continue to support and participate in it.

The pay-per-bag program has saved the town more than $5 million in avoided disposal fees, slashed trash production nearly in half and increased recycling rates from 27 percent to 40 percent. In addition, the program is fair. Those who recycle, compost and generally produce less trash pay less than their neighbors who produce more garbage and are less dedicated to recycling.

John Phetteplace, the town’s director of solid waste and recycling, said the bag issues that produced a spate of comments on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page earlier this month, impacted a minority of residents. Only a handful of townspeople lodged complaints directly to his office and he and others overseeing the garbage program acted swiftly to ensure any problems were solved.

In short, a few off-color and defective bags hardly detract from a successful 25-year program that should serve as a model for other communities. It is a system promoted by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as part of a comprehensive plan aiming to reduce trash disposal by 60 percent statewide by the year 2024. While only a handful of the state’s communities have a program such as Stonington’s, more than 7,000 communities nationwide have instituted them, including about half of Massachusetts towns.

We urge other southeastern Connecticut towns to emulate Stonington’s pay-per-bag program. It’s a commonsense, fair approach to trash disposal that provides folks an incentive to generate less garbage by getting them to think before they toss.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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