Thursday, April 24, 2008

Recycle, or else

The habits of governing through crime are hard to put down, even in liberal San Francisco. According to Cecilia M. Vega's reporting in yesterday's SFChron, Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to make sure San Franciscan's recycle, and plans to do so by making sure its illegal to throw the wrong thing away.

Newsom said Tuesday that his administration is drafting an ordinance that would require residents and businesses to recycle paper, plastics and other basic salvageable materials, as well as to compost food scraps and yard waste. It's the only way, he said, San Francisco will be able to reach it's self-imposed goal of having a 75 percent recycling rate by 2010.

"This is not, and should not be considered, punitive," Newsom said. "It's not about creating a new bureaucracy or enforcement police."

But whether he has actual criminal infractions in mind, or only some civil fine (that can become criminal if unpaid), the governmental tool kit is all about crime, and inevitably will involve methods of detection, informing, or mass surveillance.

Isn't there another way? Seattle and other cities give you an incentive to recycle by pricing collection services through the size of the container you select from the city. Even so Seattle according to Vega also relies on fines for commercial and multi-unit residential user (while homeowners get "tags" on their containers). Perhaps empirical research will document that sticks are always required and the right combination of carrots will not optimize recycling, but before we reinforce our hegemonic political habit of governing through crime, can we at least consider who is not recycling and why. How many "lazy" people are actually older or disabled people who might need a program of affirmative assistance to get them recycling?

Of course the idea of providing services (and jobs to unemployed urban youth) is probably a non-starter in California at a time of budgetary crisis. Any way, its easier to warn people, fine them, and eventually arrest them.

(Thanks to Hadar Aviram for calling this new "striped" version of "green" politics to my attention)

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