Greenwich Conservation Commission Urges the Adoption of PAYT

Submitted by Pat Sesto and William Rutherford

The Town of Greenwich is at a crossroad for deciding how to handle our trash going forward. We can choose to ignore the cost of waste, both financially and environmentally and suffer the increasingly weighty consequences, or move to a pay-to-throw system that meets both our financial and environmental goals.

Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) is the only option that achieves both objectives and the Conservation Commission unanimously and strongly recommends this is the plan Greenwich leaders adopt.

Pay-As-You-Throw operates like a utility; the more you use the more you pay. Financial consequence is the single best way to get people to think before they act and to yield a desired outcome. We should, and need to, divert material from our waste stream. Far too much is being thrown away when it should be recycled, reused by others, composted, or otherwise diverted from trash.

The environmental consequences of the volume of trash we generate is real. Our trash is taken from Holly Hill to an incinerator in either Peekskill, NY or Bridgeport. The more we haul, the more we contribute to carbon emissions. The town pays the incinerator a tipping fee of $93+ per ton to dump. The more we bring, the more we pay. The trash is burned to generate energy, but this in not clean energy. Emissions
from incinerators can include heavy metals, dioxins and furans, which may be present in the waste gases, water, or ash. Burning does not make our waste go away, either. The ash that results from burning amounts to 10% of the volume of the trash that was burned. This is then hauled to the one remaining ash landfill in Connecticut.

This landfill is scheduled to close in 2024, after which requiring our ash will have to be hauled to a state willing to accept it. By reducing the volume of trash, we reduce both our ash and carbon footprint and the financial costs associated with it. Additionally, diversion of plastics, glass, and food scraps would allow the incinerator to operate more cleanly and efficiently.

Avoiding needless trash generation is smart use of resources. Remember the three “R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Those still stand as the most environmentally responsible approach and have even been expanded to the five “R’s,” adding “Refuse” as the new first step and “Rot” as the last. PAYT helps us think more constructively about our choices in producing trash and motivates us to do better. We know from our own history how a small fee incentivizes us to make big changes. Recall the bottle bill and more recently, the bag fee. How quickly did the vast majority of us started remembering to bring our reusable bags and to refuse a bag when we could carry our purchases? All to avoid a ten cents expense. And who among us hasn’t driven out of our way to save a few cents per gallon of gas?

Education is one of the Conservation Commission’s roles in the community. We have spent an enormous amount of time, energy, and staff resources to promote trash reduction and recycling. In community after community across the U.S., PAYT accomplishes in two months what education have been unable to accomplish in the nearly 40 years since recycling started in Connecticut. Communities already using PAYT experienced decreases of 25% or more in the amount of trash generated. If Greenwich adopts PAYT, we could realize a similar reduction and meet the State goal of diverting 60% of our trash. The win-win of Pay-As-You-Throw is that the more you divert from the trash stream, the less you pay. PAYT is the cheapest option and puts you in control.

Greenwich is at a crossroad and poised to do great things that will help us hold our place in the state as a leader. Make yourself heard! Urge the Board of Selectmen, Board of Estimate and Taxation, and the Representative Town Meeting to adopt Pay-As-You-Throw. We should and can do this.

William Rutherford, Chairman
Patricia Sesto, Director