Rethinking Government: Turning Garbage Into Profit

How to keep your property taxes from ending up in a landfill

How to keep your property taxes from ending up in a landfill
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Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Property taxes are likely your second biggest expense each month next to your mortgage. But how much do you really know about where your taxes are being spent in your town?

For example, in most towns either garbage pickup is included in your tax bill or you pay each week for bags or stickers. Your town may even have a dump or "transfer" facility where you can drop off garbage for free. In either case, there are significant costs related to garbage disposal for every municipality.

Forward thinking officials are looking at new technology to turn garbage into a revenue creation opportunity.

A great example is the city of San Jose. Through its Green Vision initiative, the city is moving towards recycling all of its waste. And it's going one step further with an effort to turn that waste into energy.

A biomass technology known as dry fermentation anaerobic digestion breaks down organic waste (food scraps, coffee grinds, yard waste, human waste, etc.) from homes and businesses and turns it into methane gas, which in turn can be used to generate electricity. Additionally, the methane gas can be chemically changed into compressed natural gas, which it can be used to power the very trucks that collect the garbage.

Another byproduct of the biomass plant is compost, which can be sold to commercial farms and to residents for gardening. The technology primarily was developed in Germany and has been in use for years in Europe.

The residents of San Jose save money because tipping fees (the cost to dump waste at a landfill) drop significantly, fuel for waste vehicles is provided at no cost, and sales of compost generate new revenue.

San Jose is one of just many cities all over the country where elected officials are making dramatic changes to the way services are provided and funds are allocated. Elsewhere, schools are testing teachers, websites are allowing taxpayers to report potholes, volunteers are freeing up police forces by taking over traffic duty, and public safety operations are being merged across towns, counties, and states.

Depending on the size of your town, some of these efforts may not be easy to duplicate. However, by working with neighboring communities and combining resources, a path to financial and environmental sustainability is possible. All it requires is a phone call, an email, or a letter to your municipal officials, asking why they aren't looking for innovative solutions.

Barry Greenfield's Full Rethinking Government Series: