Trash Cops?

It’s a bit of a leap from ‘Recycling Ambassadors’ to ‘Trash Cops,’ but that’s the very jump made in this AOL column.

At issue here are the Los Angeles city employees–whatever you want to call them–who make sure Angelinos are recycling correctly, including mixing food scraps in with the yard waste.

The ‘Trash Cop’ outrage seems a bit much, given this paragraph near the end of the piece.

Offenders are first picked up on the sanitation department’s radar by trash collectors, who note when blue and green bins don’t contain proper waste. Next, an ambassador is dispatched to look in the bins on a future date, and if a wrong mix of trash is found, the resident will be counseled. Further noncompliance results in the above notice and then bin confiscation.

This piece focuses on the potential waste of taxpayer dollars–a supposed $1 million–to pay 8 recycling cops/ambassadors. That amount seemed a bit steep and indeed clicking on the link in the article shows it to be about half that. Still, that’s real money in this economic climate.

But the other issues embedded here are privacy and big government. And certainly they’re worth discussing.If they create cleaner recycling streams, are these employees warranted? Is better recycling justification enough to pay workers to dig through people’s trash?

This entry was posted in Composting, Waste Stream and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted December 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jonathan,

    Is it possible to create a food digester for a single home that creates enough gas to cook and has leftover fertilizer for your garden? Thanks, Ryan

    Ideally I’d like something that can digest your poop, your leftover food, make gas and and leave over some digestate for fertilizer. Thanks

  2. Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Did you check at Target??

    OK, probably not. To the best of my knowledge–and the poop puts it outside of my expertise–there aren’t any items like this in use. China has many micro-digesters that are used on the household or village level to provide cooking fuel (Don’t think they include feces). But I don’t see why they couldn’t be made (by you?) or include ka-ka.

    Two other thoughts–the digestate won’t be fertilizer, but a “soil ammendment.” It won’t have that many nutrients left after being digested. Same goes for the poop; there isn’t much energy content left after it’s been–you guessed it–digested.

    Anyway, what’s your take on the trash cops?

  3. ramona w.
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Here are a few more unanswered questions that could help justify trash cops, which of course is a hyperbolic term:

    -How much does the city pay to send mixed waste to landfill?
    -What are the environmental implications of sending mixed waste to landfill? and can those costs be quantified?

    I think if these questions are answered then the cost of the recycling ambassadors would very well be offset by the environmental savings. These people aren’t invading your privacy by looking in your garbage, they are promoting culture change by showing you that you don’t have garbage.

  4. Posted December 8, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Best comment ever! I love your last sentence.

    Thanks, Ramona. You raise two great questions. They can be answered, but the latter part of the second question is difficult. The methane emissions from landfill are part of the environmental problem. But also, the fossil fuels used to grow, harvest, ship and cool our food is another issue, especially when so much is wasted. I’m guessing the cost for avoiding such oil use can be quantified via carbon credits. But that’s getting a bit beyond my expertise…

    Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  • Buy the Book