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

Many cities and towns around the world, including more than 7,000 in the United States, have pay-as-you-go disposal policies. Examples include Seattle, Berkeley, Austin and Portland, Maine.

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

Pay-per-use is one of the most effective tools for local governments reduce waste, control waste disposal costs, and provide residents with an incentive to participate in recycling and composting programs. Once families start paying directly for garbage collection services, they tend to quickly reduce the amount they throw away.

Paying for generated waste

In Massachusetts, for example, cities with pay-per-use systems generated an average of 1,239 pounds of waste per household in 2020, compared with 1,756 pounds per household in cities that did not use this approach – a 30% reduction.

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

This strategy can be controversial at first. Even though everyone already pays for garbage collection and disposal, whether through rent or local property taxes, pay-per-use can feel like a new tax when split and billed separately. People are also concerned about pay-for-use schemes 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 carefully managed, can be expensive for low-income families. To prevent this, many communities offer discounts or free bags to seniors and low-income residents, and most keep their recycling rates lower than their garbage rates. This approach generally keeps costs affordable.

Solid waste management has a major impact on the environment.

Landfills and incinerators generate greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. The same goes for transporting heavy waste from urban centers to distant disposal sites.

Recycling is the best option for some materials, but many items that go to waste bins are never recycled. Research shows that by encouraging changes in consumption, local pay-per-use programs improve waste management, encouraging everyone to generate less waste in the first place.

This article was written by Lily Baum Pollans, Assistant Professor of Planning and Urban Policy at Hunter College. It is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Article in English

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