Indianapolis Star Editorial — April 22, 2010

With only about 5 percent of residents paying the voluntary $6-a-month fee for curbside recycling, the local economy is missing out on huge savings in energy conservation, cheaper materials for manufacturing, cleaner air and real estate now taken up for landfills.

“It’s a win-win for Indianapolis if we can make the initial leap,” says Carey Hamilton, executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition. “For a nominal cost we can have vast benefits.”

As was shown once again Wednesday in Francesca Jarosz’s article in The Star, the leap has been made throughout urban America and urban Indiana, where curbside recycling is the law, paid for by separate fees or as part of trash pickup taxes.

The Ballard administration says it is determined to make mass participation happen here, and is entertaining proposals from more than a dozen interested companies. But doubt remains that the populace could be sold on a mandatory policy, at least if it meant designated fees.

How about adding on to the current trash bill? It might work, says Mayor Greg Ballard, because high volume and the revenues from the recycled materials could keep individual hikes extremely low. Rising numbers of residents do haul their own recyclables to free drop-offs now.

As Hamilton points out, residents need to realize that they’ve been getting away with artificially low costs for handling waste for many years.

The $32-a-year fee for solid waste disposal hasn’t changed in two decades, and the job is subsidized with $25 million a year in property taxes. Meanwhile, the losses that could have been avoided or recouped through recycling have mounted.

“If we want a more robust recycling service, we’ve got to pay for it,” Hamilton says. “We haven’t done a lot of recycling education.”

That observation can be extended to mass transit, sidewalks and virtually every other category of environmental stewardship in a city that greets Earth Day as a time of sober inventory. The mayor and his Office of Sustainability have resolved to make up ground in all areas of Indy’s ecology, emphasizing its inseparability from the economy. Full-blown curbside recycling, mandatory if that’s what it takes, would be a stride into credibility.

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