Opinion- Lack of Waste Services Diminishes Quality of Life for PA Residents
By Jill Reigh, Communications Manager, The Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania
From single residents who still pollute by using their burn barrel, to municipal leaders fighting illegal dumping near their roadways, straight up to state legislators whose campaign promises to improve the quality of life for their constituents are failing due to budget compromises being forced behind closed doors in Harrisburg, everyone who calls the Keystone State home is suffering.
Add a lack of basic services like trash hauling and recycling to the lack of staff at the local level, plus the lack of cooperation between municipalities and that equals a lower quality of life.
Does this suffering need to continue? Absolutely not and the proof comes from a survey conducted in early 2009 by The Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania (PROP) in cooperation with work supported under a grant from The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
PROP received survey responses representing every county in the state, with nearly one third of the state’s municipalities (which includes townships, boroughs, towns and cities) responding. Respondents with a higher quality of life rating are those with mandatory waste collection, recycling and limited or no burning in their community.
Just why is quality of life affected by basic services like trash collection? Though the emphasis of this study was on waste and recycling issues, questions were also asked about community assets such as a safe environment and pedestrian access, and liabilities such as litter in the streets and blighted buildings.
Respondents were also asked to rate service quality of water, sewer and waste collection as well as restrictions on outdoor burning and problems with illegal dumping. The answers showed a direct correlation between low ratings on trash and recycling services and higher incidence of illegal dumps, housing blight, litter and open burning.
For instance, 64 percent of municipalities that contract or provide municipal waste service have significantly fewer illegal dump problems. For residents without access to recycling, waste accumulation increased more than ten percent.
Cooperation, Funding and Education
Communities with higher quality of life have found a winning combination of cooperation, funding and education as key components and it all starts with cooperation.
When county level government officials bring together the municipal leaders whose communities have lower quality of life issues, those leaders can combine forces to solve common problems with fewer headaches and at lower cost by sharing resources. Instead of duplicating efforts, work together.
Municipalities that work together to solve quality of life issues have a greater degree of success than those that don’t. This is especially true for municipalities with staffs of less than two full time people.
There truly is strength in numbers. For instance, when several communities work together with their county coordinator to pass stricter burning laws, that power can become law with substance that means enforcement is possible.
Leaders will likely face opposition from residents who are now being told not to burn their trash. But those residents will see that everyone in the area is also changing for the better, and will soon comply. (If the thought of prohibiting open burning, consider that the state of New York has just passed a law banning burning by even the smallest municipalities.)
Once local governments are working together, they can pool available funds to achieve economies of scale when offering services to residents. Economies of scale are simply using the same equipment to produce more results, using available equipment and staff more efficiently by eliminating duplicate work.
When so many of our townships and municipalities are so close geographically, why have each one running trash and recycling trucks to their own disposal facility? Centrally located, one facility can easily serve several communities. There are many such “COGs” (Council of Government) in operation for your community to use as a model. You won’t have to recreate the wheel to take advantage of efficient funding.
Now that communities are working with their county government and with each other, it’s time to put better plans into action. Education is critical to the success of any project. For instance, you wouldn’t just hand your teenager the car keys on her sixteenth birthday without educating her on how to drive. So, you don’t just hand out recycling bins or burn ban ordinances without some education to accompany the tools of the job.
Teach your residents that their burn barrel is spewing cancerous toxins into the air. Explain to homeowners that their property values are tanking with the growth of those illegal dumps down the road. Get their attention by showing them how these quality of life issues DO affect them. Old, bad habits are making their families sick and taking money out of their pockets. These new practices are positive proof that their tax dollars are truly working FOR them in ways they can see each and every day.
As the Communications Manager for the state recycling organization, I have been tasked with producing a media campaign to bring problems like open burning of trash and illegal dumping to the forefront for all Pennsylvanians. This letter to you is a vital component in our awareness campaign in hopes of getting a grassroots effort off the ground to raise the Quality of Life through cooperation, funding and education.
In the weeks to come, you will probably be hearing about these issues on radio and television. I hope that this information will make you sit up and look around you. We all need your help.
Who Can Help
PROP is always ready to assist individuals and communities who are ready to improve waste collection, recycling and other environmental issues. Our partners who also can be valuable assets include: Solid Waste Authority of North America (SWANA), PA Cleanways, the Department of Environmental Protection and the USDA. You can contact the PROP office at 800-769-7767 or visit our website for links to our partners.
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