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Pay as you throw…the debate goes on and on…Part 2

January 20, 2015

Part 2 of “Pay as you throw…the Debate goes on and on…

Fundamentally, pay as you throw incorporates two primary principles of environmental policy: the “polluter pays principle” and the “shared responsibility” concept. Under PAYT, the waste generator is charged for his or her waste generation. If a person chooses not to recycle and/or compost, it’s completely up to them for the most part, although many communities are enacting mandatory recycling regulations.

However, at least society…meaning you and me…aren’t bearing the costs of their personal wasteful habits, at least not fully. In our capitalist economic culture, this is a fairer way to “pay” for units of consumption or units of trash generated. “Free ridership” is eliminated or at least limited.  Wasteful behavior isn’t encouraged, incentivized, or subsidized. Waste disposal costs are more equally distributed across the community.

PAYT Decatur GAEnvironmentally, PAYT fosters waste reduction, recycling, and even composting. Less waste and more recycling of course means fewer natural resources need to be extracted to manufacture new consumer products. Using recovered resources in manufacturing results in lower electricity requirements, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and less pollution.

PAYT programs allow municipalities and residents to take control of their trash bills.

PAYT Concerns

Of course there are always the arguments against PAYT. Concerns that PAYT will foster illegal dumping have typically been disproved.  Illegal dumping is a problem in many communities regardless of whether or how much people pay for trash disposal. While a small number of communities which have implemented PAYT see a higher rate of illegal dumping, the hike is typically short term. As with any new program, it’s important to have regulations, monitoring programs, and enforcement in place prior to implementing PAYT. This will help deter those who may consider dumping their trash inappropriately, and it shows residents that political leaders standing by the decision to implement pay as you throw are committed to its success.

Impacts from PAYT programs on large families and low-income households can be addressed as well. Opportunities for waste reduction and recycling are an equal opportunity program in most communities, especially ones with PAYT programs in place. Because families choose to be large, it does not seem fair or prudent municipal management to subsidize their garbage disposal. Again, economic and societal equity would dictate that smaller waste generators should not be subsidizing larger generators. Low income and/or elderly PAYT program discounts can be put into place in communities where the issue is a concern.

PAYT mandated in Vermont

In Vermont, the state’s Universal Recycling law (Act 148) requires all Vermont municipalities (including solid waste districts or alliances) to “implement a variable rate pricing system [also known as unit-based pricing] that charges for the collection of municipal solid waste from a residential customer for disposal based on the volume or weight of the waste collected.” This requirement must be met by July 1, 2015. Neither facilities (such as drop-off locations) nor haulers may charge a separate fee for the drop-off or collection of recycling from residential customers. Recycling costs may be incorporated into the collection costs for solid waste, however.

When I first moved to Brattleboro a few years ago, the Town Select Board put PAYT up for a vote. Not surprisingly, it failed to pass. Now with the requirements under Act 148 looming, the town has assigned a committee to figure out the best way to enact it. Currently our curbside collection of trash, recyclables, and food scraps (for composting) is paid for through property taxes.

While Brattleboro is well situated to divert a large amount of its waste stream through convenient, weekly curbside collection of both recyclables (including all plastic containers) and food scraps, the recycling rate stands at just 31%, since there is no incentive for residents to recycle or compost. For a small town community of just 12,000 in the Northeast, we are blessed with a hauler (Triple T Trucking) and a solid waste district (Windham County Solid Waste District) that work hard to provide excellent collection, processing, and composting services.

As public discussion on PAYT begins, the usual uproar against it has started around the community. Notes posted recently on the community web forum have the usual vitriolic ring to them. How dare the town move to implement PAYT and “require” those who live on fixed incomes and cannot afford to buy the “most expensive trash bags in the world?” Those participating in the PAYT implementation committee (which includes a representative from Triple T, since the hauler will need to be able to implement the program) are accused of “financially benefitting from the program.” The town is accused of “double-dipping” by proposing to tax property owners at the same amount, while adding PAYT costs to residents. There will be rampant pollution caused by illegal dumping…Pay as you throw “discriminates against families with children.”

I understand the concerns. However, successful implementation of PAYT in the many communities which have adopted it leads me to believe that it can happen here without too many issues. I don’t think Triple T cares where their money comes from--property taxes or resident fees. Municipalities rarely, if ever, lower taxes. As a property tax payer, I’d be happy if they just don’t raise them next year! Yes, illegal dumping will be a concern. I am hopeful that the PAYT committee will be working with the appropriate enforcement agency to ensure that they get a jump on any illegal dumping.

Having worked with other communities to implement PAYT it seems that advanced promotion is as critical as working out PAYT program logistics. Positive messages on the benefits of PAYT, addressing citizen concerns with proactive communication, and having effective strategies in place to deal with issues such as illegal dumping can help to ensure that PAYT will be accepted by residents.

By Athena Lee Bradley

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