I’m a big believer in the “user fee” concept of funding governmental services. The underlying notion is simple: many governmental services benefit us all, but some benefit only the specific users of the service — so why not have them bear the lion’s share of the cost of providing that service? If a municipal government operates an airport, for example, it seems eminently fair to fund its construction and operations through taxes and charges to the passengers who fly through the airport and the airlines, rental car companies, and other who profit by doing business at the airport.
I think governmental entities also should consider expanding the “user fee” concept to look not only at who benefits from government services, but also at who causes the need for the government service in the first place. I’m thinking specifically about the trash that you find at the parks, and on the streets and sidewalks, of Columbus and other American cities. At some point, for example, somebody from some governmental entity comes to Schiller Park, empties the refuse cans, and picks up the random bits of trash to be found on the park lawns and sidewalks.
As a dedicated litter fighter who tries to pick up and throw away the random trash found at Schiller, I know first hand that much of the contents of the trash cans, and virtually all of the litter on the lawns and sidewalks, is fast food debris — coffee cups and lids, cheap styrofoam containers, straws, straw wrappers, sandwich wrappers, napkins, and carryout bags. It’s virtually inevitable that at least some portion of fast food carryout will end up as litter, and as you move from the area around the McDonald’s to the area around the Starbucks you see the change in the litter patterns that reflects that.
So why not impose a targeted “trash tax” on fast food restaurants that helps to defray the cost of picking up the litter that those businesses generate? It would be different from any fees paid for maintaining dumpsters at the fast food restaurant that get emptied from time to time, and would instead focus on the cost of the consequences of fast food carryout from a neighborhood trash standpoint. And if fast food restaurants wanted to pass on the cost by charging carryout customers a bit more, I’d be fine with that, too.
Litter is a curse that can ruin enjoyment of parks and neighborhoods. It seems eminently fair to require the businesses that cause the litter problem to pay for addressing it.