Garbage Police: Red-Tagged Recyclables

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Posted on Freedom Advocates on April 19th 2007 

In America the garbage bins of domestic life are being inspected to assess what residents are throwing away and to fine those breaking recycling rules. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) monitoring and spy cameras are being installed at household rubbish dumps in Great Britain to monitor what residents are throwing away and to penalize those breaking the rules.

Just as the garbage can is an unavoidable practicality of daily life, so too has recycling become a regular event in contemporary living. Forms of recycling can often bring value and even joy to life, whether it be junkyard-diverting hobby projects like my recently adopted road bike from a neighbor (1), handing down cherished old toys to a new family, antique collecting, or selling “junk” in a yard sale. In Santa Cruz, local art students are accepting publicly-funding commissions to convert landfill junk into “art.” (2, Good Times, 5/4/06)

But under Santa Cruz County recycling ordinances enacted at the start of 2007, Waste Management employees must now enforce new limitations on local waste bin and recycling collection, leading many to question the scope and practicality of these new measures.

Noel Smith for the Aptos Times reports:

Back on June 21, 2005 the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors adopted changes to County Ordinance 7.20 that created new recycling requirements for County residents and businesses, and that included banning the disposal of recyclable materials in the County’s Buena Vista Landfill.

As of January 1, 2007 those violating the “recyclable materials in the garbage” ban by residential customers – per County Ordinance 7.20 – “Shall be required to removed recyclable items from garbage containers before they will be collected curbside.”

And for those who plan to do their own hauling to the Buena Vista Landfill (“The County Dump” for those in Rio Linda) as of January 1, 2007, residential customers that self-haul their garbage “shall be prohibited from disposing of garbage with appreciable amounts of recyclable materials (more than 5 percent) at any County disposal facility.”

So, according to the County, anyone caught mixing recyclable materials with their garbage may find themselves on trash pickup day digging through their trash cans retrieving bottles, cans and newspapers from their garbage and begging the trash collector to, “please wait just one more minute and I’ll have it all straightened out.” (3, Aptos Times, 1/1/07)

Click to view full image More recently, the County and Waste Management have stepped up the monitoring, advertising the red tagging policy that results from garbage collectors inspections of personal waste for banned items. Americans today enjoy the many benefits of reducing and reusing without the red tape of waste management employees enlisted to police the garbage bins of domestic life. These new recycling codes are a veiled pretext via “environmental justice” to extend the police state into our homes and domestic lives.

And Reports from Great Britain point to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) monitoring systems and security cams designed for garbage and recycling surveillance:

Spy cameras are being installed at household rubbish dumps to check what residents are throwing away and to fine those breaking recycling rules. […] The sophisticated CCTV systems are capable of reading and storing car number plates to identify who is using the dump, how often, and what they are disposing of.

But human rights groups condemned the surveillance as an ‘unjustifiable’ way of tracking people’s movements. The Big Brother-style tactics come as the Government puts pressure on local councils to cut the amount of rubbish sent to landfill sites. But the fear is that extra surveillance will only lead to more illegal fly-tipping [illegal dumping].

The Mail on Sunday has already exposed the electronic [RFID] ‘bugs’ secretly planted in hundreds of thousands of household wheelie bins. Now sophisticated internet-controlled cameras are being installed at waste sites across the country. Officially they are to improve security, but council chiefs admit they will also monitor who is visiting the tips [dump sites].

Several councils also say they will use camera evidence to mount prosecutions – raising fears more householders will be taken to court over what they throw away. Cameras have been installed in Buckinghamshire, Croydon, Somerset, Dundee and Hertfordshire, and more councils are planning to follow suit after the £80 million-a-year Waste and Resources Action Programme quango [quasi-NGO] suggested they use CCTV to ‘check vehicles visiting [dumps] repeatedly.’

In Hertfordshire about 30 cameras have been installed at dumps, allowing council officials to check vehicle registration plates.

The county’s assistant waste manager Mark Simpkins told a trade magazine: “The monitoring systems are invaluable. We use them to analyse…who is using the centre, what is being thrown away and how often.” But last night his boss John Wood dismissed privacy concerns, saying: “I have not made the connection between our household waste sites and the wider debate about Big Brother.”

However, local councillor Pat Whittaker said: “We have been campaigning for CCTV to guard against street robberies and anti-social behaviour – we do not need it at the local tip. These Big Brother tactics might discourage people from taking their rubbish for proper disposal.”

Buckinghamshire and Somerset and County Councils have also installed number plate recognition systems at their dumps. Buckinghamshire council documents admit: “This may lead to investigation and possibly prosecution.”

Cameras have been imposed after the Government last year introduced a penalty of £150 a tonne on local authorities that dump too much waste in landfill sites.

Last night, Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “CCTV should only be used to protect high security installations – not to monitor a dump. This whole area is very poorly regulated. When you install an automatic number plate recognition system you are tracking people’s movements. You need proper justification before you track people. I don’t see how it is proportionate to use that kind of surveillance in the context of a recycling centre.” (4, This is London, 11/25/06; 5, more on RFID tracking)

Bottom line: as once free societies slide further underneath Big Brother, waste management policies are proselytizing every citizen into potential “enviro-criminals.”

What these articles do not touch on is that recycling may not be the magic, nor inherently “sustainable” solution as advertised to the public (image). While reducing waste may auspiciously solve the practical issue of purchasing and managing the need for additional landfill sites, it neglects the broader implications and resources needed to effectively institute a 100% diversion program.

Just like reconditioning my newly adopted bicycle, the recycling of consumer waste (i.e. aluminum cans, office paper, etc.) requires physical action, energy, and additional natural resources. For individuals frustrated and confused by the threat of new sanctions and “red-tag reprimands,” the extra water, time, and energy required to recycle materials is an unmeasured cost that should be studied, but is not. Jim Fedako for the Mises Institute has more on the questionable economics behind recycling. (6)

But does eliminating the need for landfills justify this increased draconian enforcement and further encroachment upon individual civil liberties?

In the eyes of the large corporations that essentially partner with local governments to provide sanitation services, recycling and garbage hauling is big business. In June of 2006 the City of Sunnyvale awarded a 7-year contract to GreenTeam/Zanker for management of their garbage sorting facility, effectively doubling the pay of its employees. (7, Mercury News, 6/22/06) Three months later, GreenWaste Recovery beat out the nation’s largest residential trash service provider Waste Management by landing Santa Cruz County’s “unincorporated” contract with promises for 75% garbage reduction by 2010 and 100% diversion soon thereafter. (8) Reducing landfill input to zero does not mean a virtual elimination of garbage refuse. While it may reduce it to a minimal level at a particular cost of time and resources – transfer stations like the Sunnyvale facility and newly proposed Santa Cruz “Zero Waste EcoPark” imply transit to most likely an out of state landfill – a costly move to “preserve” the green belt of Santa Cruz with blatant disregard for the environment elsewhere or the additional fuel needed to move our residual waste out of sight and out of mind. (9, Register-Pajaronian, 4/18/07)

In an ongoing development reported by Gwen Mickelson for the Sentinel, Waste Management announced its intention to dump its remaining city service contracts to GreenWaste:

GreenWaste’s 10-year contract with the county was set to begin in January 2008, but if supervisors approve, it will begin to transition the county’s 35,000 customers beginning May 1 with a gradual phase-in of services.

“It takes a lot of work to start up a garbage company like this,” Weigel said. “For the county, we have to put in new carts and bins, and it’s better if we start earlier for a smooth transition.” (10, Sentinel, 4/15/07)

What new policies (and tracking devices) should we expect now from GreenWaste Recovery as it replaces Waste Management as the only garbage and recycling service in town?

Garbage Police: Red-Tagged Recyclables by Wyatt Hull


This article contains links to outside sources not controlled by Freedom Advocates and therefore are subject to change.

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