, Gloucester, MA

February 12, 2009

It's 'offcial': Bad spelling no accident

By Patrick Anderson

Counterfeiters of Gloucester, turn off your spell-checkers.

In a ruse worthy of Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps notorious speller Dan Quayle, the city has laid a trap for residents or retailers looking to cash in on the new pay-as-you-throw trash policy.

The word "offcial," misspelled on each $2 city-mandated purple trash bag, was stripped of its first "i" on purpose, the Department of Public Works has revealed.

"It was intentional," recycling coordinator Kathy Middleton said. "In case anyone was going to copy them, we would know."

Hatched on a "whim," Middleton said the spelling plan had been kept a closely guarded secret within the department.

Asked yesterday whether he thought anti-counterfeiting was being used as a cover for a typo, Public Works Director Michael Hale said he was told the plan was real, and not uncommon with pay-as-you-throw.

Rare in most of the country, Gloucester, it seems, has a history with pay-as-you-throw counterfeiting.

When pink trash stickers were required of all bags of garbage left out for pickup, trash collectors reported finding multiple stickers that had been photocopied onto pink paper.

Making the new system more difficult to cheat was at the heart of converting to the new bags, whose distinct purple color itself was chosen over a green deemed too easy to knock off.

In addition to the misspelling, the bags come with an uneven typeface designed to throw off copiers.

But in creating an intentional misspelling, the city did something that the vendor of the bags, a national company which provides bags for 250 communities in 40 states, has not seen before.

"They were being very cautious," said John Craig, regional manager for WasteZero, the South Carolina company that sold Gloucester its bags. "They had stickers before and they were being counterfeited. They decided that is what they wanted to do."

Craig said that he thought the unique color of the bags would probably do more to discourage cheats than the type.

"The big thing," he said, "is the color purple."

Middleton said that, in the few weeks the bags have been on sale, "no one has been caught yet."

Now that people are aware of the misspelling, she said, the city would correct it when a second run of the bags is ordered, possibly not for another six months.

"We still have a lot of cases in the warehouse," Middleton said.

Patrick Anderson can be reached at panderson@gloucestertimes.coms