PAYT Bulletin: Spring 2004
Big City, Big State, Big Results: Fort Worth, Texas, Adopts PAYT
When it officially launched its PAYT program on July 1, 2003, the city of Fort Worth was no stranger to PAYT. After conducting an extended, seven-year pilot program, city officials had the basic principles of PAYT down pat. But even that level familiarity wouldn't prepare them for the success the East Texas city of 502,369 residents would achieve when it introduced the program citywide.
Dramatic Changes, Dramatic Results
Though still a bit less than a year old, the results of Fort Worth's PAYT program have been staggering. Under the PAYT system and corresponding curbside recycling programimplemented in March 2003Fort Worth's recycling rate has jumped from 6 percent to 20 percent, and 70 percent of households now recycle, up from just 38 percent. The economic effects are just as encouraging. Under PAYT, 92 percent of residents pay less for garbage disposal than they did under the old system, and the city is saving, too. The cost for municipal solid waste disposal has dropped from almost $32 million under the old system to approximately $24 to $25 million under PAYT, and the city earned $540,000 from the sale of recycled materials over the course of a year. With a promising first year under its belt, the program continues to expand. The program now serves 163,000 households, and a new route is being added every six weeks.
The 30-Year Switch
Prior to switching to PAYT, Fort Worth had been using its standard municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal program for over 30 years. Residents paid $13.75 per month for twice weekly collection of unlimited amounts of trash, with monthly bulk pickup. So, after 30 years, what prompted Fort Worth to take the PAYT plunge?
"Back in 1995, we put together a solid waste management plan," said Brian Boerner, the city's director of environmental management. "It was a public process, with a citizens committee and the whole nine yards, and one of the things they looked at was our landfill capacity in this area and going to a volume-based pay-as-you-throw systemfirst of all to try to control the volume of waste we're generating, but secondly, to make solid waste the utility that it is, like gas and water and everything else, and actually paying for the volume of waste that you produce."
In Fort Worth's case, requests from residents helped bring PAYT to the fore.
"We had a lot of elderly folks looking to cut their budgets because they're on fixed incomes, and they wanted to know if they had to pay that much for garbage since they only throw away a bag every two or three weeks," said Boerner.
Tailoring a Solution
To design a PAYT system that best suited the needs of its residents, Fort Worth consulted a number of resources, including EPA's PAYT materials, a solid waste consulting firm, and a supplier of waste disposal carts. The city also considered extensive data gathered from its seven year pilot project, which presented 8,000 residents with various combinations of recycling, cart, and rate options. Gathering information from a variety of sources allowed the city to define its budget, select containers, set rates, and design an outreach program that would make the transition easier on residents.
Fort Worth decided on a cart system with 32-, 64-, and 96-gallon cart options, with monthly fees of $8, $13, and $18, respectively. Residents can purchase a second cart of any size for the standard rate, but citizens who have already purchased two 96-gallon carts may leave additional bags of waste at the curb for no extra fee. All residents receive free recycling services, free yard waste disposal, and can call the city for bulky item pick-up.
"All in all, they would still like to have a bag system rather than have a cart system and have to move the carts out once a week," Boerner said of the immediate resident reaction. "Like anything, use is going to build familiarity, and they're actually finding that the new system is as good or better than the older system."
Saving Landfill Space and Tax Dollars
In keeping with the goals of the 1995 solid waste management plan, PAYT has also helped Fort Worth make the most of its landfill spacea long-term concern for any MSW program. By separating its waste through PAYT, Fort Worth is also managing its waste more efficiently.
"Unfortunately, a lot of cities with these take-all-kinds services send all their waste to a Type 1 landfill," said Boerner. "By sending brush to a chipping facility and using that appropriately and by sending bulk waste to a Type 4 facility instead of a Type 1 facility, we've reduced the amount of garbage we're sending to a Type 1 landfill by about 45 percent. That's not to say we're generating 45 percent less waste, but we're managing it more appropriately, sending it to the right type of disposal facility."
Combined with increased recycling, Fort Worth's landfill management efforts are paying off. Since March 2003, the city has kept 30,791 tons of recyclables, 11,369 tons of yard trimmings, and 2,618 tons of brush out of landfills. That extension of landfill life will ease taxpayer burden in the long run.
Teaching the Fundamentals
So what is the key to Fort Worth's success? According to Boerner, it's education, and Fort Worth didn't skimp when it came to getting the word out to residents about the myriad changes to their garbage service. Prior to implementation, the city cast a wide net with its outreach efforts, using direct mail and local media to teach residents the ins and outs of the new system. City officials also identified community groups and attended their meetings to keep the public informed, and took to the streets as well.
"We went as far as going and putting yard signs in each route saying 'Your new garbage day is ," said Boerner. "And everything that went into an area, whether it was direct mail or whatever, was color coded to that day, so you knew if you were Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday."
Fort Worth redoubled its efforts as roll-out approached. "As we started distributing the carts, we had cart flyers that showed what could go in, what couldn't go in, and how to set it out. As we approached the day of service, we had more direct mail pieces and a comprehensive book in English and Spanish that redefines what the whole system is," said Boerner.
Once the program was up and running, the city took immediate actions to correct any misconceptions and put its residents on the right path. According to Boerner, the city had educators in problem areas go door-to-door and talk with people, and had a team of specialists identify misuses of the system, leave flyers, and record addresses for code officials to follow up on.
After 30 years of the previous system, PAYT isn't quite second
nature to Fort Worth residents yet, but Boerner believes citizens
are catching on. "We're still in the infancy, and I think still
in the initial education phase. But we're getting through to a lot
of people. Now, when people call our call center, it's not 'what
do I do?'" Rather, Boerner says, residents know the PAYT rules,
and simply have questions about perceived discrepancies in their
service. "They're able to quote the rules back to us, and we
just have to make the contractor fully responsible and responsive
to the requests of the citizens."
Setting an Example
Based on Fort Worth's experience, Boerner also believes that implementing PAYT is an achievable goals for other large citiesprovided they follow a few ground rules. "First of all, don't box yourself in by timing. This is not something you're going to do in six months. If you're contracting currently on three year schedules, start now. Give yourself three years. Also, don't shortchange your education dollars. A lot of solid waste programming is figuring out how much everything is going to cost, and how much you can afford. Education needs to be one of the first things you should look at."
Dubuque Reaches Out to Iowa Neighbors
Public involvement has always been an important step in designing PAYT programsa fact that wasn't lost on city officials in Dubuque, Iowa. By the time the city implemented its successful program in 2002, they had conducted surveys with residents, landlords, and business owners and listened to concerns about illegal dumping, blowing trash can lids, and maneuvering garbage carts through the city's frequent snowfalls. But while most communities scale back their outreach after implementing their program, Dubuque kept goingjoining a partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Barker Lemar, an engineering consulting firm, to spread the PAYT message statewide.
"We came on board being one of the larger communities to implement PAYT recently, so it was fresh for us," said Paul Schultz, Dubuque's solid waste management supervisor. "We had done more extensive statistical models and used the full-fledged process in designing our program. We thought some of those might be useful to interested communities." It isn't hard to see why the state government wanted Dubuque involved in the project. The city's careful design work has paid incredible dividendssince implementation in 2002, PAYT has reduced the average Dubuque household's trash by 28 percent and boosted the recycling rate to 38 percent, all while achieving an 84 percent customer satisfaction rating.
Iowa already had one of the highest proportions of PAYT communities
in the nation, but the state wanted to further expand PAYT in communities
that are not required to implement it. DNR funded the effort to
provide interested communities with an assessment of their solid
waste program and a list of recommendations for the adoption of
PAYT through landfill fees set aside for special projects. Seven
communities representing some 25,000 residents ultimately moved
forward with the assessment.
Through an initial survey and meetings with community officials and other stakeholders, the project team assembled a comprehensive data set that would allow them to assess the current state of MSW operations in each community. After analyzing all of the data, the team held proposal presentations with each of the seven communities during October and November of 2003. The presentations were designed to give communities a complete view of their current MSW situation and how a PAYT system might help them run more efficientlyboth financially and environmentally. Team members, along with community decisionmakers, reviewed each community's existing municipal solid waste (MSW) system, the potential waste reduction and financial effects of a PAYT system, the PAYT design elements that would best fit the community's situation.
Dubuque's recent experience in implementing one of the state's
largest PAYT systems proved invaluable when it came time to formulate
explicit recommendations to the communities considering unit-based
"It seems as though one of the problems with many communities is the way that they handle their bulky itemsthrough doing a spring or fall cleanup," said Schultz. "Putting a PAYT program and a free spring cleanup together is not a good combination. You're giving people incentive to stockpile and store material, then get rid of it all for free at one time. That's a weak design. You need to have year-round collection for a reasonable fee."
Dubuque's experience also helped out when making recommendations regarding rate-setting. Says Schultz, "One key thing is to keep the rates for large and bulky items as reasonable as you can, because if you set the rates too high, there's a greater tenancy for illegal dumping. Ultimately, someone still has to pick up those bulky items, and its much more expensive to pick them up out of ditches and off of industrial land."
Currently, three of the communitiesMoravia, Moulton, and Newtonrepresenting 16,931 residents, are moving forward with plans to implement PAYT systems. Though the remaining communities are not planning to implement PAYT within the next several months, the project has supplied them with a wealth of information that can be called on whenever they next reconsider their MSW management system. Team members hope that, armed with the information, these communities may return to considering PAYT. With Dubuque using PAYT to dramatically reduce its waste output, boost its recycling rate, and lower the MSW bill of 75 percent of its customers, they may do just that.
"Pay-By-Use" Adopted in Ireland
Not only was Ireland the first country in the world to implement a tax on plastic shopping bags, thereby cutting their use by 90 percent, it has also imposed taxes on polystyrene food wrappers, cash machine receipts, and other waste to fund litter cleanup and recycling centers. But the land of the Blarney Stone reached new heights in implementing waste reduction incentives when Environmental Minister Martin Cullen announced a nationwide mandate in March for the implementation of "Pay-By-Use" residential waste collection services.
The mandate requires all local authorities and private waste haulers throughout the country to restructure their billing procedures by January 1, 2005, so that residents are rewarded for waste reduction. Residents will be charged by the weight of their trash, though specific rate structures and formulas are not included in the mandate. By not including prescriptive details, the mandate allows waste collectors some freedom to design their own systems, which can take into consideration unique regional circumstances. Several local authorities in Ireland have already implemented Pay-By-Use systems and are beginning to realize reduced waste volumes.
"Pay-By-Use means the householder will have the power to influence the extent of their total waste charges," Cullen said recently. "It benefits our environment and people's pocket'sa classic win-win situation."
Ireland's transition to a variable-rate pricing system for waste collection is just one example of the explosion of interest in PAYT-like programs in the United States and around the world. More than 6,000 communities in the United States are already using PAYT systems, and several other countries, including Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands, have begun implementing PAYT.
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 member countries whose work covers economic and social issues ranging from trade and education to environmental concerns, recently released a new report that recommends the use of PAYT. Specifically, it encourages the use of a PAYT model as a long-term strategy for household waste disposal, including offering a reduced fee to a number of households who compost.
This report is the result of a multi-year project, begun by OECD in 2000, devoted to examining waste prevention performance indicators. The report also details other waste prevention activities that can be implemented on a state and local level to further reduce waste. In general, waste prevention and minimization objectives have been widely embraced by OECD as key elements of a strategy aiming for environmental sustainability.
PAYT Joins the Ivy League
In March, Harvard University's Extension School hosted a week-long online bulletin board discussion on PAYT as part of a course called Strategies for Environmental Management: The Path to Sustainable Development. More than 50 undergraduate and graduate students, including distance-learning students from as far away as Africa, Asia, and Europe, were enrolled in the class, taught by Adjunct Professor Robert Pojasek.
The live discussion forum focused on the town of Arlington, Massachusetts, which once considered adopting PAYT, rejected it, and is now considering it againand facing resistance. Students joined with local government participants, including a former selectman from Martha's Vineyard who once voted against PAYT but now believes that was the wrong decision, to debate such issues as the potential for illegal dumping, educating residents about proper recycling, and whether Arlington's PAYT proposal goes far enough to promote waste reduction.
"The class brought up many issues that could lead to the reduction in the total amount of solid waste generated in the town," said Pojasek. "This is the intention of sustainable development at the local level."
The class will present information and recommendations to the Arlington town government and the Arlington Recycling Committee (the PAYT advocate) at a Chamber of Commerce symposium in June.
"There is little question that [the PAYT] approach to municipal solid waste management is here to stay and can be expected to expand and become more sophisticated over time," states Peter S. Menell, professor of law at University of California Berkeley, who has been promoting PAYT through his research and writings. In fact, at a recent presentation of his paper, An Economic Assessment of Market-Based Approaches to Regulating the Municipal Solid Waste Stream, at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC, he praised PAYT as one of the most effective incentive-based environmental programs. "The PAYT program represents one of the most successful partnerships among federal, state, and local officials in improving environmental performance," he said of his findings.
According to Menell, PAYT has been instrumental in decreasing the amount of waste destined for landfills and incinerators, reducing the total cost of disposal for municipalities, and nearly doubling the national recycling rate. In his paper, he concludes that PAYT has been "remarkably successful as a means of achieving high diversion rates. . . [and] has also fostered the development of recycling markets, which may yield even larger environmental benefits over the long run in terms of reduced adverse impacts from virgin resource extraction and more efficient resource use."
Menell admits that implementing PAYT in big cities remains a challenge, but indicates that "there have been notable successes in larger cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, and Austin." Based on his research, he concludes that "the economic theory underlying variable rate pricing has proven. . . to be quite workable in practice."
We Want to Hear from You!
EPA would like to promote YOU and your PAYT successes and experiences. Whether you are a community just starting PAYT, one that has been doing it for years, or anywhere in between, we want to hear from you!
We are interested in information on new programs, program expansions, lessons learned, challenges overcome, advice, changes, trends, new documents or reports, community reactions, or any other aspect of your PAYT experiences that could be useful to others.
Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, affiliation/community, address, phone number, email address, and a brief synopsis of your news. Please also let us know the population of your community and when you started PAYT. We will contact you for more information and include you in our online PAYT Bulletin and/or other informational materials about PAYT. One of the benefits of being part of a progressive, conservation-minded municipal program is the recognition you receive. Don't pass up this opportunity!
Spread the Word!
Please spread the word about PAYT to your neighboring communities, association members, and others in the solid waste arena. Because all of our correspondence will be via email from now on, please send an email to us at email@example.com with email addresses of anyone you think would be interested in joining our mailing list and receiving the PAYT Bulletin.