LETTER: Pay As You Throw Is a Revenue Grab

Letter to the editor from Mark Fichtel, Greenwich

People continue to flog Pay As You Throw (PAYT) as a wonderful cure for Greenwich’s waste disposal problem.  They are wrong, and it is not.

First Selectman Camillo has said PAYT is not a revenue grab.  It is exactly that. If PAYT isn’t a money grab, why not have the bags cost half of what is proposed? Let’s look at the numbers for the town.

The fiscal 2020-21 (June) budget projects that to dispose of its municipal solid waste (MSW) Greenwich will pay $5.5 million, and $0.95 million for recyclables. Without changes, that $6.45 million will all be paid for through our taxes.

We want to encourage recycling, so as taxpayers we should be willing to absorb the $0.95 million in recycling costs to send them elsewhere.

In 2019 Greenwich generated 36,500 tons of MSW.  If that were put in large garbage bags weighing 30 lbs. each, there would be about 2,400,000 bags needed.  At PAYT’s $2.00/bag cost, that will generate $4,800,000/yr., but WasteZero (the vendor) will collect 15%, or $720,000.

PAYT will, thus, bring in $4,080,000.  As detailed below, tipping and permit fees could bring in over $4.6 million, or $520,000 more than PAYT.

First Selectman Camillo has said in numerous venues he would propose a $112/ton MSW tipping fee.  Based on the approximately 31,500 tons of MSW Greenwich haulers handled in calendar 2019, the $112/ton MSW tipping fee would bring in about $3.5 million.

Based on the Greenwich 2018-19 Annual Report, people going directly to Holly Hill dropped off over 5,000 tons of MSW and paid nothing.  The average household disposes of 800-1,000 lbs. of MSW/yr.  Using a conservative number of 5,000 households using Holly Hill directly, a $65 annual permit fee would bring in an additional $325,000.

Finally, a tipping fee of $5.00/100 lbs. for 8,000 tons of yard waste (2018-19 figures) would bring in $800,000.

Now let’s look at the numbers for the residents.

The average Greenwich household of 2.8 that recycles well today will use about 90 large PAYT bags a year.  That will cost $180/yr. compared to $125/yr., even if  haulers pass on the tipping fees completely (which many may not) and residents use commercially-bought bags.  Savings of $55/yr. may not seem like much, but in a period when many people are stressed financially, choosing a more expensive option is unfeeling.

Now let’s look at some of the non-financial arguments.

WasteZero claims PAYT will cut Greenwich MSW by 40%, but we already cut it 32% after instituting single stream recycling seven years ago, have a recycling rate way above Connecticut’s average, and have a 45-50% residential recycling rate already.  The problem is commercial, and the solution to that needs more study before ramming PAYT down the throats of residents to solve something over which they have no control.

Some claim that tipping fees and permits will require infrastructure and personnel changes that will have to be absorbed by the town in taxes, but such costs are minimal, can easily be paid for with the fee income, and are likely to be less than those required by the “tiered enforcement system” WasteZero has indicated would be needed to ensure compliance.

Proponents claim PAYT charges users for generating MSW but that recyclables are “free,” so we should want more recycling.  Recyclables are not free.  We will be paying $65/ton to get rid of them.

Proponents of PAYT focus on the cost of replacing the aging incinerator.  The problem with that is that Greenwich only sends a small part of our MSW there.  In addition, the per-household cost of replacing it comes to $270, which assumes no bond issuance.

Finally, the argument in favor of PAYT comes down to the desire to reduce MSW to almost  nothing, of possible.  A laudable goal.  But at what cost?

Should Greenwich households bear a higher cost now than the obvious and fairer alternative outlined above?

Did Greenwich residents elect the leadership of town government whose agenda, now revealed, is to reduce waste to meet state guidelines (no matter how unreasonable and at a high cost) rather than manage Greenwich as efficiently and at the lowest feasible cost?

Are Greenwich residents prepared to sanction no-bid contracts of over half a million dollars?

Are Greenwich residents prepared to accept a government that fines them up to $1,000 for using the wrong trash bag?

Do Greenwich residents understand that if they allow PAYT’s coercive and mandatory strictures to become law that the next step may well be to do the same with current recycling and the coming food scrap and textile recycling programs?

My answer to all the above questions is no.  I vote for tipping fees and keeping our good habits and intentions voluntary, not mandatory.

Mark D. Fichtel