2007-10-05 / Editorial/Opinion


Let Them Eat Cake

You see them on most recycling days. The come on foot, on bicycles and sometimes even by automobile. They look through your recyclables, searching for bottles and cans that they can turn into the ready cash that many of them need to survive. Most of them, we have found, are careful not to scatter your garbage around the street. They want to be welcomed back again on the next recycling day. Last week, however, the City Council took time from its important business - renaming streets, to pass a bill that would punish these collectors with draconian penalties for transgressing the new law: fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail for the first time they are caught taking cans and bottles from your garbage, and up to $5,000 and a year in jail for each subsequent offense. We understand that the bill is meant to discourage businesses that bring in out-of-state trucks to troll the collection routes in the middle of the night for recyclable paper before the regular Sanitation trucks get there. But, regardless of what the politicians tell you, the new law will only succeed in punishing the tired and hungry, the homeless and destitute, and, conveniently, the politically disenfranchised. The bill reads: "[It is unlawful] for anyone except an authorized employee or agent of the [Sanitation] department to remove or disturb any amount of recyclable materials that have been placed out for collection." The bill begs many questions. Do the recyclables belong to the city the minute they are put curbside, as the new law implies, or do the recyclables belong to the homeowner until they are actually in the sanitation truck? Can a homeowner give somebody other than the city permission to take the recyclables without going through an unwieldy bureaucratic process to do so? The bottle collectors provide a public good by picking up bottles that would otherwise spoil the environment. They insure that the bottles and cans are recycled. Why criminalize that activity by providing large fines and even jail time for those who are only working for a few dollars to stay alive, while doing a public service at the same time? If you really need to protect the city's income from recyclable paper (estimated by the city as the lofty sum of $150,000 or so, annually) then limit the law specifically to paper. I haven't seen any of those poor people sifting through the garbage taking out newspapers. Even The Wave isn't that popular! Let's not give the Sanitation police any more weapons than they already have to torment our community's most destitute souls. You might want to ask our City Council representatives Joe Addabbo and James Sanders, who both voted for this law, whatever happened to compassion and fairness when it isn't rewarded by votes.

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