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Garbage In. . .

Dumping on Dona Ana County's proposed trash fees.


You've heard the saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure? Well, I happen to live in a county that might just prove this little catchphrase true in the near future, and I can't say that I'm too excited at the prospect since it's my trash that will add to the county's treasure.

Here's the problem: Trash costs money. In the case of local government, the days of digging big pits in the ground and backing up the trash trucks are long gone. Environmental concerns require much more circumspect methods of trash storage these days, and this means trash now has a bureaucracy. There are all kinds of trash to consider: medical waste, recyclable materials, biodegradable waste, toxic waste, ad infinitum. You cannot possibly expect to have incompatible kinds of trash intermingle, as bad consequences could result, like contaminated groundwater or Britney and Kevin's new baby. Trash requires sorting, storing, transporting and classifying. With all these new requirements come more cost and inconvenience for you, the trash-maker.

We all generate trash, and just because you choose to describe something as "trash" — old coffee grounds, Subaru products, Richard Marx albums — doesn't mean it's worthless. When you lovingly place your darling daughter's latest papier-mache masterpiece on top of the eggshells and milk jugs, you have to pay a trash service to come pick it up once a week. Most of us are willing to trade a few dollars a week for the convenience of having someone else whisk our garbage away, but some die-hard citizens take matters into their own hands and dump their own trash.

In Dona Ana County, that means you can haul your own filth to either the main waste-management facility or a waste-transfer station. These are two very different things: The waste-transfer station features government employees who won't help you as you back up your truck and toss your trash into a large, bad-smelling receptacle. The waste-management facility has government employees who won't help you as you back up your truck and toss your trash into a large, bad-smelling receptacle with a bulldozer in it. Either way, the trash is then hauled by truck to a big landfill that I suspect is located far closer to Mexico than the Mexicans would like. Just like jumping in your rusted-out truck to make a beer run, it costs money to run these trucks. The end result is that garbage costs the county money, and they're sick and tired of it.

So here's the deal: The county commission, as daft and argumentative a flock of parrots as ever crapped on a cage liner, wants to start charging people to drop off their own trash. The most recent proposal is to charge $6 for a "small truck," $12 for a "large truck" and $24 for a trailer. Not too surprisingly, I have some problems with this idea.

Although I keep an old pickup-bed trailer out back for occasional dump runs, I don't go to the waste-transfer station more than two or three times a year. This is to relieve myself of items too large for the weekly service, like broken lawn chairs, construction debris or dead livestock. When I haul my trailer out, I notice that my fellow trash dumpers don't seem like the kind of people who want to pay — anything — for garbage dumping. In fact, it can be hard to distinguish between trash and some of the vehicles they drive up in. I fear that if our detached county commissioners attach a fee to this service, the desert will bloom overnight with hundreds of miniature trash piles that cost the dumper nothing. Call me a cynic, but I believe human nature is basically weasely, and filling an arroyo with beer cans and car parts won't bother these amateur trash haulers.

Another alternative is that the dumpers might opt for alternate ways to unburden themselves of their stinky mounds. When I was younger, everybody in New Mexico had a burning barrel out back that greatly reduced the volume of household trash. The wafting stench of burning plastics comforted me on many warm summer evenings as the fumes penetrated the always-running swamp cooler. In fact, the Lightcap family one-upped the neighbors by having an actual burning pit. Every few years, we'd cover the pit with the tractor and make a new one a few yards away. (We had a lot of stuff to burn back in the good ol' days.)

I've also seen dumpsters behind local businesses filled with trash that wasn't necessarily generated by the business itself.

The most innovative but despicable method I've seen personally is to drive around with trash bags in the back of one's truck and pull up next to another open-bed pickup, quickly transferring bags from the dumper's vehicle to that of the dumpee. I think this is bad karma, however.

Just like bungled elections and inefficient county employees, it seems to me that handling trash is one of those things we pay taxes for, and ought to be covered in the price of admission. If all county services need to start recouping their costs, I can hardly wait to see the fee schedule for police protection, fire, vector control and filling potholes. I already pay an awful lot of taxes, and I don't know how much value I get from my investment, but dropping a load of trash into a county trailer is one of them, and I would think that any financial loss the county is suffering would be dwarfed by the cost of cleaning up all the illegal dumping that would result from such fees.


Henry Lightcap takes out the trash in Las Cruces.


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