KALB & MOSS: More Increases to Your Trash Bill, with Little to Show for It

Submitted by Scott Kalb and Cheryl Moss

In response to the recent LTE by Mike Basham (Basham: Tipping Fees “No Failure, No Regrets, Feb 6 2024)

Get ready for another round of increases to your trash hauling bills thanks to tipping fees, a policy that moved the cost of trash disposal out of the budget and onto residents. With tipping fees, no matter how much you recycle or compost, or how much you reduce what you throw away, your monthly hauling bill is still going to rise. As a result, it appears that tipping fees have led to higher trash volumes and lower recycling rates in our town, increasing costs for everyone.

Incinerators and landfills charge our Town a tipping fee to dispose of trash, and under the current system, this fee is passed on to haulers to “tip” trash at Holly Hill, who in turn pass it on to you.

As we brace for the next increase in our trash bills, let’s look at the impact tipping fees have had on our town. Have they reduced costs to you? No, your trash costs have increased disproportionately. Have they shifted any of the cost burden to haulers? On the contrary, hauler profits have soared. Have they reduced trash volumes or increased recycling, laying the foundation for future savings for our town? Nope, not a chance. In fact, we have been going in the opposite direction.

When tipping fees were introduced in July 2020, haulers passed on the cost to our residents plus a fat margin, raising the average trash bill by 30%, an increase of  $160 a year. That’s about double what the proponents of tipping fees had forecast. In fact, some churches and not-for-profits faced increases of 50-100%. We don’t know yet how much our hauling rates will be increased this time around.

Besides burning a hole in your wallet, tipping fees don’t address the underlying problem – increasing amounts of trash, fewer places to dispose of it, and little incentive to encourage alternatives.

In Greenwich, last year trash volumes increased by 10% to 38,700 tons compared with 2020, before tipping fees were introduced. Meanwhile, recycling volumes decreased by 14% to 12,130 tons during the same period. Our recycling ratio, once one of the best in the state, has fallen to just 31% from 40% previously.  This is significant because recycling costs about 50% less than disposing of trash.

Since 2020, trash disposal costs at the Peekskill incinerator, Greenwich’s main disposal site, have increased by 7% to $117 per ton. Notably, Peekskill is expected to shut down in 2029 and this will likely lead to a big jump in Greenwich’s trash costs, and your trash bill.

Tipping fees at state incinerators and landfills have increased by 70% over the last decade. Your trash hauling bill will only keep rising if our trash volumes continue to increase, disposal capacity continues to shrink, and our trash handling sites become ever more distant.

The bottom line – to get people to reduce the amount of trash they are throwing away we must appeal to their self-interest.  We need a metered service for trash, just as we have a metered service for electricity, water, and gas. People don’t waste these services because they are charged by the kilowatt hour, the liter, or the cubic meter.

The same principle holds true for trash. As long as people can pay a flat fee to throw out as much trash as they want, there is little incentive to reduce it, to take the time and energy to separate items that could be recycled, reused, or processed, like food waste, textiles, and plastics. And those that do should reap some benefit from their efforts.

A metered system helps people focus on what they are throwing away and how best to dispose of it, because it puts money in their pockets. On the other hand, tipping fees are an “all you can eat buffet” that do the opposite, they incentivize trash, discourage recycling, and leave residents few options to lower their bills.

We need to change the way we approach waste in our town, not just keep raising fees on our townspeople to cover a bigger and bigger trash problem in an endless loop.  It is worth noting that the First Selectman’s Waste Management Committee (FSWMC) voted in favor of pay as you throw over tipping fees in 2020, although this recommendation was rejected.

We know this because we both served on the FSWMC, Cheryl as Co-Chair and Scott as Secretary. Also on the committee were representatives of the food industry in town, local institutions, and local haulers. Mr. Basham and Mr. Ozizmir were the only members to vote against the pay as you throw option supported by our committee.

We should focus on actions that would reduce trash volumes, reverse the decline in recycling, and save millions of dollars for our residents. One interesting area to explore is food waste, where recycling for composting, anaerobic digestion, and animal feed holds great potential. Although food waste represents about 25% of the trash stream, our food scrapping program accounts for only one quarter of one percent of our trash. That’s a lot of upside. At the same time, the cost to recycle food waste is much lower than disposing of trash, and even cheaper than single stream recycling. Incentivizing people to recycle food waste has the potential to take a real bite out of our trash volumes while taking pressure off our budget, and protecting your wallet.

Scott Kalb served as Secretary of the First Selectman’s Waste Management Committee, two terms on the RTM as Secretary of the Legislative and Rules Committee, and is currently a member of the BET. He also serves as Chairman of Bright Feeds, the largest recycler of food waste in New England, currently converting 150 tons/day of food waste into animal feed. Cheryl Moss served as Co-Chair of the First Selectman’s Waste Management Committee and is currently RTM Chair of D8 and Chair of the Public Works Committee.  Comments expressed in this article are Cheryl and Scott’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the RTM or the BET.