It’s been official for many years, but now it’s truer than ever: if you’re still not recycling, you’re costing yourself and your fellow taxpayers money.

At one time, recycling may have been the exclusive province of aging hippies, environmentalists and assorted other tree-huggers. But that’s ancient history.

Nowadays, recycling is an exercise in fiscal conservatism. If it also saves a tree along the way, that’s a bonus.

The Wakefield (MA) DPW recently renegotiated the town’s recycling contract. As a result, the town could be paid as much as $130 a ton for recycled paper. That would net the town over $100,000 a year. Even at the current average market price of $80 at ton, it would mean almost $50,000 a year for the town’s coffers. At the very least, the town is guaranteed $10 a ton, for at least $11,000 a year.

So if you are one of the many people in Wakefield who still throw recyclables like paper in with the regular trash, you may as well be throwing tax money in the trash too.

Of course, that’s been true for a long time.

Like many communities, Wakefield has long paid a flat rate to have recyclables hauled away, whereas the town pays by the ton for trash removal. So every bit of weight that people take out of the trash in the form of paper and other recyclables means the town pays less. And now that the town will also be paid for recycled paper and certain other recycled materials, those who still don’t recycle are doubly costing the town and their fellow taxpayers money. This is also true in many other communities that have similar recycling and trash removal arrangements.

“In the past, the town benefited from the reduction in trash fees when the town recycled paper,” Wakefield DPW Director Richard Stinson said in announcing the new recycling contract. “Now we will benefit from a reduction in trash fees as well as receiving financial compensation for the recycled paper.”

And we’re not just talking about newspapers. The town will also be paid for all the newspaper inserts, magazines, phone books, catalogs, junk mail, office paper, paperboard (things like cereal, cracker and shoe boxes), and paperback books that local residents recycle at curbside.

Even when it comes to other recyclable materials like plastic, aluminum cans and glass, it makes no sense to throw these materials into the trash, because the town pays extra when you do. At the flat rate for hauling away recyclables, the more you recycle, the more money you save yourself and your fellow taxpayers.

Even before being paid for recycled paper, the town saves $58,000 for every 1000 tons that are recycled instead of thrown in the trash. That’s $58,000 that the town won’t have to raise in taxes to fund other town programs.

If you drive or walk around on recycling day, you’ll see that far too many people still don’t put out a recycling bin or bags full of recycled paper. That can only mean one thing: that this stuff is going into the trash and costing you money.

These people either have not gotten the message or they don’t care. If you have a neighbor who still doesn’t recycle, it would be in your financial interest (and theirs) to help them see the error of their ways. Why not send them a copy of this column? (Tell them to recycle it after they’ve read it.)

Anyone in Wakefield who’s not sure how to go about recycling can go online to the DPW’s page on the town’s web site. Or phone the DPW at 781-246-6300.

The words “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root. It’s no coincidence that in 2007, recycling is an act of fiscal conservatism as well as conservation.

[This column originally appeared in the July 19, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item.]


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