Converting from flat-fee or no-fee trash service to unit-based pricing can seem intimidating. Below are some common questions and responses from communities that have implemented PAYT and professionals that have studied PAYT.

Does pay-as-you-throw lead to increased illegal dumping of household waste?

This may be the most frequent question about unit-based pricing for trash, and it’s reasonable to wonder about it–but the answer is a definitive no. Public works directors, city councilors, and mayors in pay-as-you-throw communities consistently report that illegal dumping did not increase in any appreciable way when they adopted unit-based pricing.

After a great deal of research across thousands of communities with unit-based pricing, the U.S. EPA has concluded that illegal dumping is “more a perceived barrier than a real issue.”

The New England Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) states it clearly: “Many studies document that towns do not experience increased problems after switching” to pay-as-you-throw, adding, “Problems tend to be with bulky wastes (like sofas, mattresses, and tires) and existed before” variable-rate pricing was introduced.

And to cite just a few examples out of many at the level of individual communities, Sandwich, Mass. Public Works Director Paul Tilton testifed at a public hearing that illegal dumping did not increase when his town adopted unit-based pricing in 2011 (“Sandwich DPW Chief Gives PAYT Glowing Endorsement,” Bourne Enterprise, July 10, 2015), and Presque Isle, Maine, Solid Waste employee Sandra Fournier pointed out, “People are going to dump illegally regardless of if they have to pay for the bags or if they didn’t” (“Pay-As-You-Throw Programs Aim to Incentivize Recycling,” Waste & Recycling News, June 10, 2013).

Why do some communities choose to adopt pay-as-you-throw?

Cities and towns have various reasons for adopting pay-as-you-throw.

Some communities are motivated by the financial benefits of pay-as-you-throw, using the revenue and savings from the program to reduce existing taxes or fees, to avert a planned tax or fee increase, or mitigate the financial impact of an upcoming landfill closure.

Other communities are interested in channeling pay-as-you-throw’s financial impact to introduce or expand other services. For example, Waterville, Maine, and Vernon, Vt., both use PAYT to fund convenient new curbside recycling collection.

Still other cities and towns are drawn to the environmental sustainability benefits from pay-as-you-throw: reduced greenhouse gas emissions from decreased trash and energy savings from increased collection and use of recycled goods.

Do residents like pay-as-you-throw?

The respected public opinion research firm Public Policy Polling has found broad and deep support for pay-as-you-throw among people who take part in it.

PPP surveyed almost 1,000 people in 11 PAYT communities, and found:

  • 79% of users have a favorable opinion overall of PAYT, and 52% have a very favorable opinion.
  • 89% of users think PAYT is performing as well as or better than they expected.
  • Over 75% of users said that implementing PAYT would make them either more likely to vote to re-elect the public officials who instituted it or that it would not make a difference in their vote.

The survey report can be accessed here.

Is unit-based pricing for trash a hardship for low-income residents?

It is reasonable to ask whether pay-as-you-throw will increase expenses for low-income households, but this is a concern that is not supported by facts and experience.

First of all, many communities decrease existing solid waste fees when they adopt unit-based pricing, so in those cases people are simply shifting the way they pay for trash from a fixed fee to a variable fee based on use.

In addition, people generally end up spending far less than they anticipate. When they first hear that they will be paying for trash on a per-unit basis, they may imagine paying for the same amount of trash they created before unit-based pricing. This does not take into account the fact that with unit-based pricing, people throw away far less–and therefore pay less to dispose of their waste.

Finally, unit-based pricing offers people across the income spectrum a power they do not have with traditional fixed-cost payment systems: the power to control their spending on trash by choosing to divert more and throw away less, much like they can control their spending on water by using the tap sparingly or on electricity by turning lights off when they leave the room.

How prevalent is pay-as-you-throw across the U.S.?

According to the EPA, thousands of cities and towns across the US have some form of pay-as-you-throw.EPA map

Do bag-based programs add to the waste problem by increasing the amount of plastic disposed?

Bag-based pay-as-you-throw actually reduces the amount of plastic in landfills and incinerators.

For one thing, it’s important to keep in mind that people simply throw away fewer plastic bags when they’re creating less trash.

In addition, the amount of plastic used for bags is dwarfed by the additional amount of recyclable materials diverted from the waste stream due to unit-based pricing. The average non-PAYT U.S. household throws away three or four pounds of plastic trash bags per year; not only does that number decrease with PAYT, but a highly effective pay-as-you-throw program can increase the capture of recyclable plastics by 20 to 40 pounds per person per year.

Can a bag-based program work with automated collection?

Absolutely. Many cities combine a bag-based pay-as-you-throw program with automated collection, including Fall River, Mass.; Plymouth, Mass.; and Tiverton, R.I. These cities report that the equipment is easy to use, affordable, and effective at monitoring compliance.

The system is simple: A camera attached to the hopper allows the driver to monitor the bins to ensure residents are using pay-as-you-throw bags. If the driver sees a non-compliant bag, he or she can note the location using a tablet computer in the cab, and the city can address the violation according to its protocol.

WasteZero has produced a helpful video that shows exactly how this process works: