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PAYT Bulletin: Winter 2003

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 Winter 2003 issue. To review other issues of the Bulletin, use the links on the right side of this page.

Multipurpose Righted

Could PAYT Offer Hope for New York City's Recycling Program?

In the city that never sleeps, waste production never ends. More than 7.5 million people live in New York City, and residents produce an average of 14,000 tons of trash each day. According to action group NYC WasteLe$$, city residents dispose of enough paper bags each year to line the Brooklyn Bridge 170,000 times and enough plastic grocery bags to line the Lincoln Tunnel 80,000 times.

Image of Empire State Building

With budget-related cutbacks putting New York City's recycling program in jeopardy, some observers have pointed out that PAYT could be a viable alternative or supplement to tax-funded trash collection, reducing the amount of waste that needs to be managed while potentially generating revenue. While waste management officials face implementation challenges associated with PAYT in a big city like New York, PAYT could be an important part of a longer-term solution.

And New York City's recycling programs is facing its biggest challenge to date. In 1993, New York initiated the largest citywide curbside recycling program in the United States, collecting mixed paper, plastics, metals, and glass from all of the city's 3 million households. In July 2002, however, as a result of a budget crisis, the Mayor and New York City Department of Sanitation (DOS) officials suspended plastics and glass recycling until they can be made more cost-effective.

Steve Hammer, a waste management expert and founder of New York City-based Hammer Environmental Consulting, recommends that "As it evaluates recycling, the city should also consider a PAYT program as a natural complement."

New York City residents currently pay for DOS to collect trash and recyclables through their property tax, a flat indirect charge that creates the perception that waste collection is "free." City residents can put as much garbage as they want on the curb for DOS to collect, and some communities require the department to provide hauling services two or three times each week. Prior to cutting back recycling services, New York spent almost $1 billion per year on trash and recyclables collection.

Implementing PAYT in New York City could shift the cost of waste collection directly to residents by requiring them to pay based on how much trash they throw away. Currently, more than 5,000 communities in the United States have PAYT programs, and studies show that these programs typically reduce waste while saving municipal governments money. Most of these communities, however, are small, rural or suburban cities and towns that can more easily handle many of the administrative requirements of a PAYT program. Larger cities face certain challenges that make PAYT more difficult to implement, including how to bill residents of large multi-tenant buildings, how to decide on collection methods and container types, and how to avoid overburdening low-income households. New York City can learn from other large cities' successes with PAYT.

When Many Act as One: The Multi-Tenant Issue

Operating collection and payment systems in large apartment buildings is one of the biggest issues New York City would have to resolve to implement PAYT. About 57 percent of the city's residents live in large, multi-tenant buildings (buildings with 10 units or more) that usually have a centralized trash collection point. Therefore, determining who is throwing away how much and billing tenants appropriately can be a difficult task.

According to Barbara Stevens, president of Ecodata, Inc. consulting group, most high-rise buildings in New York City have garbage shoots where residents dump bags of trash. These individual bags are bundled up into larger bags by the superintendent and carted to the curb.

"Throwing away garbage in multi-tenant buildings is entirely anonymous," she said. "A PAYT program would be very difficult to enforce."

In addition, most big cities require landlords of multi-tenant buildings to contract with private haulers for trash collection. Landlords then pass trash removal costs onto residents as part of the rent. A PAYT program is more difficult to run in a multi-tenant building because generally the landlord and not the tenants receive any monetary savings. San Francisco, California, and Austin, Texas, are two cities with PAYT programs that simply do not offer PAYT service to multi-tenant buildings.

In New York, the city provides collection services to multi-tenant buildings. Neither landlords nor tenants pay a direct cost, no matter how much waste they produce. Requiring these buildings to contract with private haulers would require tenants to pay a direct cost for trash collection, but would not create the incentive to reduce it. In addition, landlords of some multi-tenant buildings in New York would have to find a way to pass on costs to tenants of the 1.25 million complexes subject to rent control.

"PAYT could work in multi-tenant buildings if the city can provide a monetary incentive to landlords to encourage tenants to reduce waste," Stevens said. "Offer them economic bonuses if they reduce trash in their buildings, then have them split the funds with the tenants' association."

The Container Quandary: Cans, Bags, or Tags

Deciding on the type of container to collect trash also poses issues in large cities like New York. The usual pros and cons surrounding the use of cans, bags, or tags/stickers would all apply, including problems with pest and odor control, accessibility from crowded streets, durability, and theft.

Using large cans on wheels and small cans without wheels worked best for San Francisco's collection crews because they could wheel the heavier cans to a truck for automatic emptying and empty the smaller ones by hand. Residents usually favor the cans because they reduce the risk of vermin, odors, and associated diseases that can come when trash sits out on the street. According to Hammer, bags or tags might be the best choices for containers in New York City as they would place the cost burden directly on residents, eliminating the need for a billing system and bypassing the rent control issue.

Money Matters: Billing and Rate Setting

New York City would have to carefully consider options for billing and rate setting based on the type of collection container it chooses and the amount of revenue it wants to earn from the program. Billing enforcement also would be an issue, as the city could not refuse to collect trash if tenants didn't pay, because of health concerns.

To address this, some cities tie trash bills to other municipal utility bills. In Seattle, Washington, for example, water and trash collection charges appear on the same bill, and if residents pay their water bill but not their trash bill, the money is applied to the trash bill, and water can eventually be cut off for non-payment.

New York also would have to evaluate rate-setting options to avoid overburdening its low- and fixed-income households. Some cities have adopted subsidy programs to help low-income customers pay their bills. Austin, for example, is one of the larger cities to successfully implement a subsidy program, and it also offers free waste audits to help participating residents reduce the amount of trash they generate.

On the Right Track: Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping is one issue that New York might be able to handle more readily than other PAYT cities. Preliminary studies suggest that fears of increased illegal dumping caused by PAYT are unwarranted. New York City, however, already has an advantage in combating illegal dumping if it does become a problem—DOS has an enforcement unit of 173 uniformed workers that makes sure residents adhere to waste collection rules. The department also has experience conducting public education campaigns, which could be used to help the public accept PAYT regulations.

"PAYT is a saleable message because it puts trash collection costs in tenants' control," Hammer said. "It also can be presented as a source of valuable information; knowing the impacts of what you throw away makes you a better, more informed consumer."

Overcoming Obstacles

Stevens believes PAYT could work if the city offered the program to residential buildings only and defined residential multi-tenant buildings as those with six or fewer units.

"Manhattan would be limited, but Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx all have lots of single-family homes and could make PAYT work," she said.

According to Hammer, all the issues with PAYT in New York City can be resolved if officials are willing to spend time and resources up front to develop and implement a program. He believes the city's biggest hurdle at this point is to find a way to re-establish the full recycling program—PAYT will not work if residents don't have legal alternatives to throwing away waste. Hammer believes city officials will first have to realize that they shouldn't dismiss PAYT because it is challenging.

"Everything is harder in New York," he said. "Anything you do will be harder here than in other cities, but PAYT can work if the mayor and DOS are willing to think outside of conventional management practices."

Image of large city

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PAYT Programs Reduce Waste, Reason Study Documents

PAYT waste and recyclables collection programs result in a 17 percent drop in garbage tonnage, with a significant increase in both recycling and source reduction, according to a new study published by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based public policy think tank.

"Recycling programs only encourage recycling," said Dr. Kenneth Green, the study's project director and chief scientist at the Reason Foundation. "Pay-As-You-Throw programs encourage recycling, composting, and source reduction––and source reduction is the cheapest waste management strategy."

The study, released in July, is in a question-and-answer format and addresses the strengths and weaknesses of bag, can, sticker, and hybrid variable-rates programs; how these programs promote source reduction and recycling; and how to implement a PAYT program successfully.

The study found that variable-rate pricing is the most effective way to involve communities in source reduction and recycling programs. Variable-rate programs currently are available to approximately 20 percent of the country's population and exist in all but four states. According to the report, about 1.3 million tons of waste is source-reduced annually by variable-rate communities.

These results suggest that towns with PAYT programs may see reductions in tons disposed of around 16 percent, divided equally among discarded materials that are recycled, composted, or avoided entirely through source reduction.

In addition, illegal dumping—which towns fear will increase if they start up a variable-rates program—is not the large problem it is often thought to be, the study found. In fact, a study by Skumatz Economic Research Associates found that residential waste is not a large component of illegally dumped materials. The largest components of illegally dumped materials are construction and demolition debris (25 percent) and brush (nearly 40 percent).

Most of the residential waste that is illegally dumped is bulky waste such as mattresses, sofas, and large appliances. Communities have implemented bulky waste collection days to increase the success of variable rates programs and minimize the incentives to illegally dump materials.

As far as whether the programs are difficult to administer, anecdotal evidence from many towns indicated that in most cases, after an initial effort to education customers about variable rates, the programs are readily accepted. Cities looking to implement PAYT programs can learn a lot from the work other cities have done, but they also must address the specific concerns of their own residents to be successful. Tailored approaches for large families and low-income customers help increase customer acceptance of the program.

For a copy of the study, visit http://www.reason.org/studies/show/126704.html Exit EPA , or call the Reason Foundation at 310 391-2245.

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European Union Promotes PAYT Using Innovative Technologies

PAYT programs have proven effective in encouraging waste reduction in more than 5,000 communities across the United States—and they are becoming increasingly popular across the ocean as well. Many European Union countries, especially Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands, are experimenting with some version of PAYT.

Several major European cities have successfully implemented programs charging residents for waste collection services based upon the volume or weight of waste discarded. This has encouraged people to think twice before they toss and to find alternative ways to dispose of waste, such as recycling and composting. Other EU countries, such as Denmark, France, Ireland, and Italy, are rapidly developing PAYT programs, and the Czech Republic, Spain, and Greece are showing increasing interest in PAYT as well.

Image of trash canPAYT programs are one part of the EU's overarching effort to support innovative ways to progress socially, economically, and technologically, while preserving each country's culture and protecting the environment. EU officials have set policy objectives to increase awareness of each individual's responsibility to help reduce waste in its efforts to promote sustainable development.

"In the past, environmental protection and social or cultural development have too often been treated as alternatives to productivity and competitiveness," said Phillippe Busquin, the European Commissioner for Research. Now, driven by the policy objective of sustainable development, the EU is "finding innovative, ‘win-win' solutions," Busquin added, which allow it to "meet social aspirations and preserve cultural values at a competitive cost, without damaging the environment."

PAYT is one of these solutions. Waste reduction is particularly important in Europe's major cities, where nearly 80 percent of the population dwells. Many residents in densely-populated European cities live in large, multi-unit apartment buildings, not single-family homes. Just as in the United States, tenants in multi-unit residences in Europe discard their waste in large, common bins. Keeping track of how much each individual throws away is difficult, and so the incentive for tenants to reduce their waste is not built in. Because resources are diminishing, EU cities are coming up with innovative and successful ideas to promote waste reduction principles through PAYT that U.S. cities could learn from.

Technology Promoting PAYT

In response to the demand of sustainable development, a few German companies have developed sophisticated billing technologies that keep track of the waste individuals throw away. These technologies can make implementing a PAYT program easier, by inspiring residents to take individual responsibility when disposing of waste.

Two German manufacturing companies—The SULO Group Exit EPA, near Hannover, and WESOMA GmbH Exit EPA, in Zwickau—have devised special air-lock waste containers that only tenants can access, using a personal access card. These containers harbor electronic data carriers that automatically measure the amount of waste thrown away by each tenant, tracking the user, date, and time waste was deposited. Each month, tenants receive bills reflecting the amount of waste they deposited and the corresponding amount due. In some cases, the access card works like a Smart Card—tenants must periodically add money to the card, which is automatically deducted each time waste is deposited.

Along with this sophisticated identification and weighing equipment is equally innovative software technology. Germany's Envicomp Systems created the Envicomp Modular System (EMS)—domestic refuse software that processes the data generated by the identification and weighing systems. This software was specifically developed for the billing between disposal companies and municipalities. Allowing for friction-free processing for disposal and administration processes, EMS provides efficient bin management, exact registration of materials and their assignment by cost center, optimized route planning, targeted evaluations and statistics, and integrated billing systems that include a payment reminder function.


According to a "Key Findings" report by the Fifth Framework, a program that initiates European Community research, residents of apartment complexes in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands have been pleased with these new technologies that promote PAYT because they allow for fairer billing and more control over individual costs. Tenants pay for what they throw away, much like paying their electricity or water bills. They become more conscious of the items they dispose of and tend to follow the methods of reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting more frequently.

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City's Recycling Rate Skyrockets, Thanks to PAYT

A PAYT program can drastically improve a city's recycling rate. The city of Diamond Bar, California, saw its recycling rate jump from 12 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2001, after it began a PAYT program in November 2000. The program also helped the city decrease waste generation by 4 percent, despite a population increase, and, within 4 months of implementation, the city had a 50 percent diversion rate in the residential sector.

Photo of front loader collecting trash and recyclables in Diamond Bar.

A front loader collects trash and recyclables in Diamond Bar.

Diamond Bar, located 30 miles east of Los Angeles with a population of nearly 57,000, has reaped the rewards of increased waste diversion, a cleaner appearance, and public recognition of its efforts. Among the more than 80 communities that make up Los Angeles County, Diamond Bar is one of about a dozen with a PAYT program.

Educating residents and providing incentives for recycling were keys to Diamond Bar's success. The city wanted not only to run a successful recycling and waste diversion program, but also wanted to change the waste disposal habits of its residents, said Michael Huls, the city's contract environmental services coordinator. As a result, the city made the residents the number-one priority in the planning and implementation process.

Diamond Bar encouraged the use of smaller waste containers by rewarding residents for their recycling efforts. The city does not charge a cart exchange fee for residents who reduce the size of their carts (which come in 25-, 64-, and 96-gallon sizes), and residents who request only one cart do not have to pay the surcharge imposed on residents who request more than one cart. The surcharge for additional containers always defaults to the cost of the larger of the two containers to discourage people from requesting smaller carts and then paying only a small surcharge for a second, larger container.

To promote grasscycling and composting, the city gives a yearly $36 collection discount to residents who do not dispose of yard trimmings and attend a quarterly workshop. The workshops are open to all residents of Los Angeles County, but only Diamond Bar residents are eligible to receive a free compost container and discount. About 250 residents currently receive the discount, and an estimated 2,600 residents grasscycle and compost at home. The workshops are a joint venture of the Los Angeles County Public Works Department, which provides an instructor and free publicity, and the city of Diamond Bar, which provides the facilities.

A driving force behind the city's PAYT program is integrating solid waste collection and recycling to create an effective, long-lasting program that both city officials and the community will embrace. "Our variable-rate program not only gave the community a cleaner appearance, but it also reduced the cost of collection, minimized litter problems, encouraged waste prevention, increased recycling, and made residents more aware of what they can do," Huls said.

To improve the cost-effectiveness of the program, all collection vehicles are equipped with an automated pickup system, allowing for one-person crews (see PAYT Bulletin, "Austin Becomes Fully Automated," Summer 2001). A loading device picks up and empties containers, and returns them to the curb. As contents spill into the side-loading mechanism, the driver inspects and identifies contaminants. The device accommodates a wide range of containers, including the three offered in the city's program.

According to Huls, the reaction and feedback to the program from both businesses and residents has been positive. Although some residents eyed the program with caution initially, "the diversion rates and responses show that people are excited about the program," Huls said. During the planning phase, the city avoided potential pitfalls by looking at what has and has not worked in other programs. Most important, Huls said, is that "people will want to—and will—do the right thing when they are included in the planning process from the beginning."

The increase in recycling and diversion earned the city a first-place, statewide award "California's City of Environmental Excellence" from Keep California Beautiful, and another first-place award from the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) as "Best New Household Hazardous Waste Program in California for 2001." CIWMB also will recognize the city this year (along with 200 other California cities) for meeting the state's 50 percent diversion goal.

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