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Pay-as-you-throw is one of cities’ most effective tools for reducing waste

Pay-as-you-throw is a policy that charges people for the amount of trash they throw away. It is also sometimes called variable rate pricing or pay-as-you-go.

Many cities and towns around the world, including more than 7,000 in the United States, have chargeable waste management policies. Examples include Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, and Portland, Maine.

Large cities often require residents to purchase special trash bags or stickers so they pay separately for each trash bag. Or people may have to sign up for a certain level of litter collection service, which limits the amount of litter they can put on the sidewalk.

A pay-as-you-go trash bag for the city of Waterville, Maine. Local grocery and convenience stores sell the bags in two sizes: large (30 gallons, $2.60 per bag) and small (15 gallons, $1.63 per bag). All waste dropped off for collection must be in the purple bags. Source: City of Waterville

Pay-as-you-throw is one of local governments’ most effective tools for reducing waste, controlling waste disposal costs, and encouraging residents to participate in recycling and composting programs. Once households start paying directly for waste management services, they tend to quickly reduce the amount they throw away. In Massachusetts, for example, cities with pay-as-you-go systems generated an average of 1,239 pounds of waste per household in 2020, compared to 1,756 pounds per household in cities that did not use this approach. a reduction of 30%.

Such a change may mean that people recycle and compost more, so the total volume of the waste stream remains relatively stable. But over time, pay-as-you-throw communities tend to see a drop in the total amount thrown away, including recycling and compost.

Massachusetts cities with pay-as-you-go systems generated an average of 1,239 pounds. of waste per household in 2020, compared to 1,756 pounds. per household in cities that haven’t — a 30% reduction.

This strategy can be controversial at first. Even though everyone already pays for garbage collection and disposal, whether through their rent or local property taxes, pay-as-you-go can look like a new tax when broken down and billed. separately. People are also concerned about pay-as-you-go programs that encourage illegal dumping, although this has not been observed in practice.

A more serious concern is that pay-as-you-go programs, if not managed thoughtfully, can be costly for low-income households. To avoid this, many communities offer discounts or free bags to senior and low-income residents, and most keep their recycling rates lower than trash rates. This approach generally keeps costs affordable.

Solid waste management has a significant impact on the environment. Landfills and incinerators generate greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. The same is true for transporting heavy waste from urban centers to remote disposal sites.

Recycling is a better option for some materials, but many items that go to collection bins are never actually recycled. Research shows that by stimulating consumption changes, local pay-as-you-go programs improve waste management by encouraging everyone to generate less waste in the first place.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.