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Editorial: Stores paying the price for helping city

Five years into Concord’s pay-as-you-throw program, there are plenty of winners.

As Monitor reporter Megan Doyle reported on Sunday, trash collection in the city has been cut by 40 percent and recycling is up 60 percent.

The benefit to the environment that comes with that kind of shift is obvious. A reduction in waste means a reduction in greenhouse gases, and that bolsters the offensive against global climate change.

Taxpayers are winners as well. Had the city gone with the “business as usual” approach five years ago rather than taking the bold and responsible step it did, residents would have paid 3 percent more in taxes just to cover the same trash removal service, according to Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan.

Ultimately, pay-as-you-throw turned out to be a truly equitable solution to a growing problem by treating trash collection as a utility: The more service you require, the more you pay.

Yet there is one clear loser in this otherwise successful program.

Not only is there no financial incentive for stores to sell the bags, businesses actually take a hit when customers use a debit or credit card to buy them because of the transaction fees.

That is why Concord Food Co-op will only accept cash for the bags, South Street Market stopped selling them altogether, and some retailers, such as the Market Basket supermarket chain, declined to stock them from the outset.

Josh Bourassa, customer service manager at the co-op, said the store was happy to break even while providing a community service, but it didn’t make sense to lose money in the deal.

It’s difficult to argue with that. The financial reality for most small businesses is that the margins are too slim for municipal charity.

But while it may not be economically feasible to make the purple trash bags a money-maker for the 16 stores that sell them, it seems reasonable to make sure nobody – including the city – loses money on program.

Concord is expected to lose about $100,000 on solid waste this year. For that reason, officials plan to discuss raising prices on the purple bags for the first time since the program’s inception.

Those discussions should include a way to make sure that producers of trash, not the businesses that sell the bags, pay for disposal. The transaction fees are a burden that small businesses shouldn’t have to carry and never should have been expected to.

Solicited altruism rarely amounts to good policy.

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