LETTER: Camillo Should Tell the Whole Story on Pay As You Throw

Letter to the editor from Mark Fichtel, Greenwich

The Greenwich Sentinel continues to publish articles laudatory of Pay As You Throw (PAYT).  First Selectman Fred Camillo has emphasized that though he had to withdraw PAYT from the 2020-21 Greenwich town budget because of widespread opposition, he “will be holding public forums throughout the year to address the public’s questions and concerns,” and intends to have the town government adopt PAYT later this year and put PAYT in effect for 2021-22.

I hope when he is propagandizing for PAYT that he tells the whole story.

First, the vendor, WasteZero, will receive 15% of whatever PAYT’s bag fee brings in, which based on the numbers in the 2020-21 proposal, would cost Greenwich residents $650,000+. This is about 70% of the $912,000 figure First Selectman Camillo flagged that had to be offset when he was trying to push PAYT for the 2020-21 budget.

Second, the most recent Greenwich Sentinel article stated: “Recycling removal, which used to be free…will…require… annual expense of nearly $1 million [and to] combat these rising costs…Camillo proposed…PAYT.”  The main problem with that statement is that PAYT charges nothing for recyclables, which is where the “nearly $1 million” in new costs is coming from, so the claim PAYT will offset those costs is disingenuous.

Third, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT-DEEP) claims “every community that has adopted a PAYT system has reduced its trash output 40 to 60 percent.”  A bold claim since only one Connecticut town uses PAYT, and another that had it voted it out.

Fourth, WasteZero makes the same claim for the 550 communities in New England supposedly using PAYT, but they provide no hard data on what amount of recycling had been done before PAYT began, and most importantly, they provide no specific figures for what non-recycling, non-PAYT bag efforts contributed to the average 44% drop they cite, such as composting, food scrap recycling, textile recycling, etc.

Fifth, a push for more recycling may well yield minimal benefits in Greenwich, since residents (not commercial), based on hauler data, already recycle 45-50% of their trash.  Another way to look at this is that since 2008, according to Greenwich Annual Report figures, our municipal solid waste (MSW) has dropped 32%, while according to EPA figures, MSW for the U.S. as a whole has risen 7% in that period.

Sixth, First Selectman Camillo continually compares PAYT’s benefits to the negatives of a “flat [property] rate tax increase,” which is a straw man argument.  The best solution is a tipping fee levied only on MSW that may prod people to reduce their MSW even further as they shop the 24 haulers operating in Greenwich and work out agreements for lower monthly charges for less MSW for which the haulers will pay.

Seventh, a $112/ton tipping fee on MSW (even if passed through completely) should only cost the average hauler customer about $100, more than 50% below what PAYT would cost.

Eighth, though WasteZero’s Kristen Brown claims that in “every case” they have worked with, “towns achieve 100% complicity after a four to six-week transition period,” the company’s literature says a “tiered enforcement system” will be needed (with no cost estimates for that), and the plan was to levy heavy fines of $100 (first offence), $250 (second), and $1,000 (third and beyond) for those not in compliance.

Ninth, Greenwich is about to start pilots for composting and food scrap recycling.  Since food waste, according to CT-DEEP, generates 22% of MSW, if the pilot is successful and turned into a well-advertised and voluntary and free (unlike PAYT) program, Greenwich’s MSW will decline further without the costs of PAYT.

Greenwich has already done, without the coercion that is endemic in PAYT, much of what that program was supposed to do to reduce MSW, tipping fees on MSW will bring in even more money that was expected with PAYT, and voluntary composting and food scrap recycling should accomplish much of the rest of what we might do.  First Selectman Camillo might spend his time more productively on other issues facing Greenwich.

Mark D. Fichtel
Former President & CEO of the New York Board of Trade