This will easily be one of the most unpopular things I will ever write. But free loose-leaf pickup is absolutely ridiculous, and a total waste of our money.

When I mention the service — which is in place in Winston-Salem and Greensboro — to people who aren’t from around here, they have no idea what I’m talking about. They’ll look at me first with confusion, then incredulity. And I get it.

The same is true in reverse, when I explain to people in the Triad that where I grew up, there is no municipal trash or recycling collection service offered. We separated our own recycling and took it to the facility adjacent to the town dump. That’s where the trash went too, but we produced enough of it that we outsourced the drop-off role to a trash collection company, just like our neighbors did, rather than schlep our refuse to the dump.

I used to enjoy going to the dump, throwing glass bottles separated by color into a huge container and hearing the shatter, or watching old newspapers tumble down the side of the steep pile from our paper bags. But I’m not advocating for privatized trash and recycling services — those are basic needs, the latter of which the cities should really encourage and can profit from. I grew up in a small town, with about 23,000 residents, where such socialized services might not be as cost effective.

But the concept of free loose-leaf pickup still irks me. Sure, it’s better than if the cities forced you to bag the leaves first, just creating more work for residents and ultimately more waste. But do we really need to socialize the cost of leaf removal?

Maybe we could strike a deal, wherein once a year the city would make a pass to pick up loose leaves piled by the curb. Additional pickups could be scheduled by appointment at an additional cost, and considering the city already provides water, it might not be that complicated to tack on to a resident’s monthly bill.

You want your precious lawn free of naturally occurring leaves at all times?  Great. You can pay for it directly.

Someone could argue that the same theory could be applied to trash pick up, somehow charging residents more for requiring more frequent collections or surpassing a weight threshold. I’d be just fine with that. It’s how we pay for electricity and water, so why not incentivize decreased wasteful habits around leaf collection and garbage the same way?

It could be harder to pull off for trash, it could be argued, because such an approach might encourage littering or illegal dumping. The same can’t really be said for leaves, though — go ahead and throw them into the woods down the street from your home, and stop making the rest of us pay for it.

After all, it costs the city of Greensboro almost $900,000 a year, and the money comes out of the general fund.

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