Friday, February 3, 2012

Clark County Recycling, One Last Time?

HARBESON: Recycling: Will it ever stop coming around?

SELLERSBURG — Counting today, I’ve written about the topic of recycling seven times now. That’s a lot. Even Sylvester Stallone only played Rocky six times. But I had to jump in the ring again because it looks like we might have only one more chance to deliver a knockout punch to Clark County’s mandatory recycling program.

This all began after passage of a state law intended to lessen the amount of waste going into landfills. In response, Clark County officials decided to implement a program that included curbside pickup and charged a fee to all households, whether they used the pickup service or not. Throughout the early years, the Solid Waste District consistently pounded the idea that this program was required by state law. But it wasn’t.

The state law did not require counties to create a mandatory program. But Clark County chose to create one anyway. They decided to use force rather than voluntary action and this led to a large stinking mess.

The mandatory fee created constant friction. When some individuals refused to pay, the district sued, pitting neighbor against neighbor, creating more ill will. In 2001, the state reported that “often a mandatory ordinance will reduce public support rather than increase participation” and encouraged voluntary persuasion to boost participation. Still, the county continued to force.

About 5 years after that report, Clark County Commissioners finally set free those living in unincorporated areas. However, if you read their statement, you can clearly see it was not based on any real insight about the benefits of voluntary means. On the contrary, they seem proud and certain that the coercion sufficiently trained people, like dogs, to robotically continue. (Read it for yourself:

Even though their reasoning wasn’t so respectful, they did remove the coercion — for some people. But due to the government system, those living in incorporated areas needed their town or city councils to act if they wanted freedom from the coercion.

This year, it looks like Borden will soon be free, in part because a large percentage of residents are simply not paying anyway. (Effective civil disobedience?)

Clarksville tried to opt out once. But after receiving complaints, they caved and continued to mandate fees for all. They should not have done so. Clearly, the only way a council can respect all residents is to vote for a voluntary program so everyone is free to choose.

Clarksville has a new council now, so could this finally be accomplished? Do they really want to institute change? If so, this is certainly one area where they can take action and show residents they respect each individual’s freedom to make his or her own decisions.

Jeffersonville’s political makeup has also changed significantly. While commissioner, Mike Moore never seemed to be bothered by the coercion — his focus was on efficiency through privatization. But now that he’s a mayor who campaigned to lower the tax burden on city residents, will he verify that commitment by promoting a voluntary program for Jeffersonville residents?

Even though I think recycling should be an individual, not collective, decision because there are many ways to be environmentally friendly, I don’t even care whether or not town and city officials make a change for principled reasons based on individual freedom. It would be good enough if they behaved like the county officials and made the program voluntary simply because they feel like people are “sufficiently trained” to recycle.

Taking action this year is important because the Solid Waste District is making plans to put the fee on the county tax bills and if that happens, I doubt if it will ever be possible for a countywide voluntary program to be instituted.

So what will the future hold? Will the new mayor and councils really bring change to Clark County? Is the Clark County mandatory recycling program finally against the ropes?

I hope so because I really don’t want to write yet another sequel to this sordid tale that would surely smell worse than Rocky’s armpits.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson thinks it’s time to throw in the towel on the idea of using coercive means to accomplish goals.

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