“Pay as You Throw” programs reduce waste by 17 percent

Variable-rate programs provide effective alternative to recycling-only plans

provided by Reason Foundation


he “Pay as You Throw” waste programs result in 17 percent less garbage and increased recycling, according to a new report by Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank. The study finds that variable-rate pricing is the single most effective change a community can make to its garbage and recycling program.

    “Pay as you throw programs give people incentives to recycle and reduce the amount of garbage they throw away because it's a simple concept – garbage bills increase with the amount of waste disposed,” said Dr. Kenneth Green, the study's project director and chief scientist at Reason Foundation. “Recycling programs only encourage recycling. Pay as you throw programs encourage recycling, composting, and source reduction – and source reduction is the cheapest waste management strategy.”

Getting with the program


    In most parts of the country, garbage removal is paid for by a portion of property taxes or with a fixed bill that does not take into account the amount of garbage taken away. Variable-rate programs are currently available to approximately 20 percent of the nation's population and exist in all but four states. Skumatz Economic Research Associates, Inc., estimates that 1.3 million tons of waste is annually source-reduced by the country's existing variable-rate communities.

    “We all watch our pocket books and the bottom line,” Green said. “Consumers in neighborhoods with pay as you throw programs are making decisions at the grocery store based on how much it will cost them to throw something away. And that type of knowledge is great for the environment.”

    The report outlines the advantages and disadvantages of several types of variable-rate programs, including: variable-sized can programs, bag purchase programs, tag or sticker programs, hybrid systems and weight-based systems.

    Larger communities tend to use can programs, where customers select the number and/or size of containers based on their weekly disposal needs. Smaller and more rural communities often opt for bag or sticker programs, where customers buy bags or use stickers to identify the type of waste (yard waste, recyclables, regular waste, etc.).

The price is right

    “Most communities across the country would benefit from some type of pay as you throw waste program,” Green stated. “Variable-pricing programs help the environment, lead to more efficient resource use, and lower solid waste management system costs. This report can help communities examine the feasibility of variable-rate waste programs for their areas.”

    The study acknowledges that some large families pay more for garbage pickup under variable-rate programs, but also asks “whether it has been fair all these years for small disposers to be subsidizing large disposers under fixed-bill systems.” The report recommends reduced rates or assistance programs for low-income families.

    The full study, Variable-Rate or “Pay as You Throw” Waste Management, can be found online at www.rppi.org/ps295.pdf.

    Reason Foundation, (310) 391-2245.