Even the most libertarian of citizens generally agree on one actual use for government: Picking up the trash. In rural Santa Fe County, with far-flung residences and dicey roads, trash hauling is easier said than done. In fact, it appears that the 10,000 tons of trash being collected at county transfer stations (as per a 2010 study) is but a small portion of the estimated 50,000 tons of trash county residents generate. Where that other 80 percent lands is anyone’s guess.
No more — perhaps. The Santa Fe County, the city of Santa Fe and the jointly operated Solid Waste Management Agency have decided to study trash. Evidently, it’s an in-depth approach, since the yearlong study will cost $400,000 ($200,000 from the city and $100,000 each from the county and the solid waste agency.) The idea is to find out how to improve trash management both in urban and rural Santa Fe County, including better recycling. To be studied? The different programs offered and how to improve them. The city wants to find out whether it’s a good idea to mechanize recycling pickups. The county is wondering whether its transfer stations are cost-effective. (We’d say what matters most is whether they are trash-effective; do we have enough to gather rural trash effectively?) The waste management agency is thinking about whether it needs a reuse center for people to exchange goods — one man’s trash is another’s treasure, so to speak.
We would hope, for the amount being spent, that the study also focuses on what works in other parts of the country. Santa Fe is not alone in having rural residents in need of trash pickup. In Arizona and Utah, just to name two Western states, there’s less trash lying around. Changes to waste management should lead to making it easier to put trash where it belongs — in the landfill (or recycling bin) rather than in our arroyos or along our mountainsides.
Currently, the county spends about $2.1 million annually dealing with trash, but only about $435,000 comes from selling permits to allow residents to dump trash at transfer station. Another $346,000 is from an environmental gross receipts tax, and the rest — $1 million-plus — comes from the county’s general fund. Obviously, if more revenue can be generated from trash hauling, more money would be left in the general fund. That’s a worthy goal, but what’s most important is getting residents to use the transfer stations and to stop dumping trash anywhere and everywhere. In the city, we will be interested in finding better ways to recycle and to involve more residents in the programs that already exist. Much “trash” that hits the landfill doesn’t have to, and in the long run, diverting waste is cheaper for us and better for the environment.
Santa Fe — both city and county — have plenty of room for improvement in managing trash. Let’s get the information we need to do better — both in picking up trash, diverting reusable materials from the landfill and making Santa Fe a cleaner place to live.