LETTER: Pay As You Throw Is Best Way to Incentivize Change of Habits

Submitted by Ali Ghiorse

Through all of the warranted concerns relating to COVID-19, our town must continue to function and move towards adopting a budget for next fiscal year. And although it may seem out of touch given our current circumstance to address the future management of our municipal waste, it is our heightened awareness of the connectivity between all systems that makes this question relevant.

The waste we generate has a detrimental impact on public health, the environment and our tax dollars. Living in Greenwich we are spared direct exposure to the pollution of an incinerator, and we don’t see the cost of managing our waste directly leave our bank account each month. As we continue to debate different solutions, I encourage you to support Pay As You Throw (PAYT).

First, what is Pay As You Throw?
In communities where Pay As You Throw (also known as unit pricing or variable-rate pricing) is implemented, residents, businesses and tax-exempt entities are all charged for the disposal of ‘trash’—based on the volume thrown away. This creates a direct economic incentive to recycle and divert more and to generate less waste. Households pay a variable rate depending on the services used.

Now, here is our situation.
Our individual choices pertaining to the amount of waste we generate has a ripple effect, extending well beyond the borders of our town. With Greenwich’s current system of paying the tipping fee through taxes, each of us is not held accountable for what we throw away. We pay the hauler for the service to take our waste to Holly Hill and then taxes fund the tipping fee to get the waste to the incinerator.

Small generators of waste pay the same amount as big generators. In other words, the empty nesters that own a home in Greenwich but live part time elsewhere are paying the same amount as the family of five that neglects to recycle responsibly. Additionally, our structure of tipping through property taxes relieves all of our tax-exempt entities, such as private and public schools, houses of worship or the hospital, from paying for the waste they generate to be hauled out of town. One can debate whether taxes are regressive or not, but you certainly can’t call this fair.

Looking outside of our community, CT Department of Environmental Protection set a goal for every town to reduce waste by 60% by 2024, through diversion strategies including food scrap and textile recycling and reuse. Greenwich presently diverts 38% of our waste. The State needs to reach the goal of 60% in order to prolong the life of incinerators. The taxpayers of CT are presently looking at a $330M cost to rehab or replace one of the state’s aging incinerators. Once this incinerator fails, the displaced waste will put additional pressure on the remaining, aging facilities leading to an inevitable increase in tipping fees for us all to shoulder.

Let’s look at our options.
If the cost of waste plus the new recycling costs continue to be paid for by taxes, taxes will go up and nothing will change. Big producers of waste and tax-exempt entities will still be subsidized. Very few will be motivated to rethink their waste diversion practices. And we know from a long history of effort that education doesn’t produce meaningful change.
Charging the haulers a tipping fee to cover the cost of incineration is also option.

Currently haulers do not pay a tipping fee for using our transfer station, but once this additional fee is in place, it will be passed on to customers, leaving very little incentive to change practices.

Also, the town taxes will have to absorb the cost of infrastructure adjustments at Holly Hill and add staff to manage the collection of fees, resident permits, etc. PAYT is the responsible solution as it is simple, transparent and empowers you to decrease your costs. Residents and businesses buy designated town bags at a pre-set cost. All non-recyclable items go into the bags, regardless if you are commercial, residential, or tax exempt. If you throw something away – you pay for it. Recyclables, however, are free. Taxes no longer pay for waste – the user does. And there are no changes at Holly Hill.

The 2,000 communities across the U.S. universally demonstrate that PAYT incentives us to make better decisions and practice responsible waste management. These changes positively influence our own expenses, our town, our state and the environment.

Ali Ghiorse RTM, District 1

The views in this article do not represent those of the RTM or any of its committees.