Pay-As-You-Throw Programs Prove to Be Successful

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In communities with pay-as-you-throw programs, residents are charged for the collection of municipal solid waste based on the amount they throw away. This creates a direct economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste. Photo: Flickr/s.yume

The town of Malden, Mass. is receiving an additional $2.5 million annually to spend on jobs, programs and services and is reducing municipal solid waste (MSW) by 50 percent, thanks to program known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT).

“There is no single thing that can be done – and I mean you can add up the next nine best ideas, whether it be single-stream on through whatever other ideas you have about recycling – you can add all those things up together, and they wouldn’t have the impact of going to a pay-as-you-throw program,” says Mark Dancy, president of WasteZero, a company that helps municipalities implement PAYT.

More than 7,000 communities are cashing in on the perks from PAYT, according to the U.S. EPA.  Three hundred communities assisted by WasteZero to implement pay-as-you-throw have diverted on average 43 percent of their MSW, with many communities coming close to 50 percent.

In addition to reducing the size of landfills, diverting waste is critical for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, landfills in the U.S. are the largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Dancy says another great advantage of the program is its inherent fairness. Residents only pay for how much they use the waste collection service.  With the traditional fixed-rate or hidden property tax fee used to pay for trash collection, residents who recycle pay the same amount as their neighbors’ who send all of their waste to the landfill.

“There are four residential utilities: electric and gas, water and garbage,” explains Dancy. “The only one that doesn’t operate on individual responsibility and accountability is garbage […] If we had a flat rate for our electric bill, people would be very wasteful.”

With PAYT, a garbage collection fee is added on when residents purchase their garbage bags at the store. The store sends the tagged-on fee to the city. Though this fee isn’t huge, it causes residents to think twice before filling up their garbage bags.

“The person who is recycling can get down on average to less than a 30 gallon bag and a half [of garbage] per week, per house,” says Dancy.

Less waste collection also means increased revenue. If a community reduces waste by 50 percent, the community pays 50 percent less for disposal, according to the EPA. Concord, N.H.’s pay-as-you-throw program is saving the city about $528,000 annually and has increased recycling by 75 percent.

Gloucester, Mass. is saving $300,000-500,000 annually from reducing waste collection by 29 percent by using PAYT and contracting with a new waste disposal company that allows for increased recycling.

But even with the program’s economic and environmental advantages, some cities are still hesitant to start the program.

“In this political environment, people are very resistant to change, and that’s a challenge,” says Dancy. “You have to convince them their town isn’t different from other towns. But, once you do that, you have universal success.”

All communities where WasteZero has implemented the pay-as-you-throw program are still running and experiencing positive results.

WasteZero encourages residents interested in starting a PAYT program in their community to speak with their city council. The EPA Web site also provides information and tools to local officials and residents for starting pay-as-you-throw.

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  • Carolyn

    Great article and Malden is a terrific example of the success of a PAYT program but the photo should show a bag instead of a barrel. Barrels are an option but any community considering using a barrel for a unit-based pricing type of program needs to be thoughtful about the barrel size. A small barrel is best for encouraging waste reduction. 35-gallons would be a good barrel size which would be similar to the bags used in Malden.

  • Pamela

    What is done to address the problem of those who dispose of their trash elsewhere? Two of my close neighbors don’t put out recycling cans (a borough service), nor any trash (private haulers).

  • Chris

    I assume that with PAYT, you need a town that has a recycling program that takes most types of plastic, glass, paper etc…Otherwise, it will need to be tossed.