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PAYT Bulletin: Summer 1999

The PAYT Bulletin is designed to help solid waste planners and others get the latest pay-as-you-throw news and events. Use the links below to read articles from the Summer 1999 issue. To review other issues of the Bulletin, use the links on the right side of this page.

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Climate Change, PAYT, and YouImage of forest and image of woman recycling household items

The average surface temperature of the Earth has been increasing since the late 19th century. The sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches over the past century. There is a growing scientific consensus that these global climate changes are occurring in large part because human activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere. At first glance, this problem might seem too large and daunting for the average person to fix. On your own, it certainly is. With a little collective action, however, we can make a positive difference. Participating in a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program is one relatively easy way each of us can help alleviate the potential negative impacts of global climate change. The discussion that follows explains why.

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PAYT and Climate Change

A naturally occurring mixture of greenhouse gases (primarily water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) comprise 1 to 2 percent of the Earth's atmosphere and keep the planet within a livable temperature range. Since the late 1800s, scientists have seen greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere. There is a growing consensus that this buildup is changing the atmosphere's delicate balance and is likely to eventually lead to problems ranging from flooding to increases in infectious diseases.

What does this have to do with solid waste and PAYT? Some of the rising levels of greenhouse gases can be traced in part to solid waste and its management. The manufacture, distribution, use, and subsequent disposal of products all typically result in greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling and waste prevention are ways to help decrease greenhouse gases associated with those activities. When we recycle, we provide materials that can be used to manufacture new products. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than making them from virgin materials. Using less energy means emitting fewer greenhouse gases. Keeping organic materials out of landfills reduces emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Waste prevention is even more effective for reducing greenhouse gases. Less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products when people reuse items or when products are made with less material. More efficient manufacturing means less energy consumed, fewer fossil fuels burned, and less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. It also means less materials need to be incinerated or sent to landfills. This helps decrease greenhouse gas emissions as well.

As you know, PAYT waste management programs encourage waste reduction and recycling. When consumers pay for every bag or can of waste they generate for disposal, they are motivated to recycle more and look for creative ways to prevent waste in the first place. In communities that implement PAYT programs, research shows that overall waste disposal can decline an average of 14 to 27 percent. In addition, recycling rates often increase dramatically in these communities, sometimes reaching double or even triple what they had been before the program was implemented.

Simply put, PAYT community members have a greater economic incentive to buy their breakfast cereal in bulk to create less trash. That means less packaging is manufactured, less waste is sent to a landfill, and more trees are left standing in the forest to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

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Collective Action Makes A Difference

You might be wondering how much of a difference PAYT communities really make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Based on recent Duke University research on the effects of PAYT programs on waste reduction and using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waste reduction greenhouse gas emission factors, EPA estimates that the per capita reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of a new PAYT program is 0.088 metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE) per year. MTCE is the internationally recognized unit of measurement that accounts for different warming potentials between greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. If a community of 100,000 were to implement a PAYT program, the greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 8,800 MTCE (0.088 multiplied by 100,000). This is the same as taking nearly 6,600 cars off the road!

Image of equation showing that less garbage and more recycling and reuse helps save the environment

Every PAYT community can make a positive impact on climate change regardless of their size. The larger the community adopting PAYT, however, the greater the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Following are a few examples of the positive differences some large PAYT communities have made in waste reduction:

While EPA will continue to provide information about the benefits of PAYT to all communities, regardless of size, the Agency is beginning to increase its outreach efforts to big cities. In fact, EPA and the International City/County Management Association held a workshop on May 17, 1999, in Chicago, Illinois, to encourage more big cities to switch to PAYT. Representatives from 10 cities with populations of 100,000 or more attended, including New York, New York; Miami Beach, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Honolulu, Hawaii. Attendees heard from PAYT experts on the benefits of PAYT, including greenhouse gas reductions, and were given technical assistance on how to design a rate structure and implement full cost accounting.

If EPA's recent efforts targeted at big cities are successful, the impacts on global climate change will be even larger. If just three new big cities with populations of 1 million people each implemented a PAYT program, it could mean an additional reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 264,000 MTCE. That is equivalent to the air quality benefits of planting 264,000 acres of trees!

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PAYT and Sustainability

PAYT meets the waste management needs of today without compromising the environmental needs of the future, making PAYT an environmentally sustainable program. Less waste and more recycling means fewer natural resources need to be extracted and less energy is needed, sustaining the environment for future generations. Communities with PAYT programs in place have reported significant increases in recycling and reductions in waste, due primarily to the economic incentive created by the programs.


Not only is PAYT environmentally sustainable, it is economically sustainable as well. For communities struggling to cope with rising municipal solid waste management expenses, PAYT can be an effective tool. Well-designed programs generate the revenues communities need to cover their solid waste costs including the costs of complementary programs such as recycling and composting. Residents also benefit because they have the opportunity to take control of their trash bills.

Along with environmental and economic sustainability, another key element of a sustainable program is equity-the third component of PAYT. One of the most important advantages of a variable-rate program is its inherent fairness. When the cost of managing trash is hidden in taxes or charged at a flat rate, residents who recycle and prevent waste subsidize their neighbors' wastefulness. Under PAYT, residents pay only for what they individually throw away.

The idea of sustainability is becoming more popular, as witnessed by the recent National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America, May 2 through 5, 1999, in Detroit, Michigan. Thousands of communities, businesses, and organizations came together to discuss how to balance environmental, economic, and social goals. EPA displayed information on PAYT at the event and a representative answered questions about the program. The event was cosponsored by the President's Council on Sustainable Development, which advocates volume-based garbage fees in its policy recommendations.

Years ago, the environmental movement adopted the slogan, "Think globally, act locally." That is exactly what is happening in the more than 4,000 PAYT communities coast to coast. With PAYT serving as the catalyst, residents in these communities are each doing their part to collectively address a damaging global environmental trend.

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Pay-As-You-Throw in Print Newspaper

PAYT is catching on nationwide...and at the printing press. This year, PAYT appeared in a prominent article in The Washington Post, and in 1998, two popular books referred to variable rate programs. Preventative medicine (a.k.a., source reduction) is the main theme of "Talkin' Trash," William Rathje's February 7, 1999, Washington Post article, and PAYT is highlighted as "the answer" to America's garbage dilemma. Rathje, a nationally renowned garbologist, again discusses source reduction in his book with Robert Lilienfeld, Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are. In this book, the authors highlight PAYT as a perfect example of how economic incentives help people reduce waste. They report on the overall success of PAYT and how citizens find creative ways to reduce waste.

Sustainable America: America's Environment, Economy, and Society in the 21st Century, developed by the President's Council on Sustainable Development with a foreword by Vice President Al Gore, mentions variable-rate programs as a method of 'sustainable production.' Weight- and volume-based trash collection programs are cited as "appropriate, powerful, and efficient" methods for reducing waste. Kudos to all the cities and towns nationwide whose PAYT success is inspiring so much recognition and publicity!

For More Information
Climate Change
Sustainability Exit EPA

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