LETTER: Why Greenwich Should Adopt Unit Pricing (Pay As you Throw) for Cost-Effective Waste Reduction

Submitted by Neil Seldman, Director of Waste to Wealth Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance, Washington, DC

Something can be done immediately to solve the trash crisis in Connecticut. The state is running out of capacity to manage its garbage and must choose from a set of undesirable options:

+ Begin the long and arduous process of locating a new incinerator, which impacts air quality for all, especially people in low income and minority communities.
+ At increased expense, transfer Connecticut’s waste to another state to handle.

Or, the state can find a way for residents, government and businesses to do reduce their waste by 60% by 2024.

There is no magic bullet to accomplish the latter, but unit pricing, known as Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART) or Pay As You Throw (PAYT) comes pretty close. My organization, which is dedicated to empowering communities to take control of their own futures, recommends implementing unit pricing as an effective management tool.

Decades of case studies of New England cities and towns prove that unit pricing is a sound fiscal, social and environmental policy decision. In New England alone, there are over 500 existing programs that have successfully reduced trash volumes and saved those communities money. Most realized a 40% reduction of the waste stream as result of source reduction by households and increased recycling and composting. A report, released about the impact of unit pricing systems on residential trash collection in Southern Maine offers further validation. In a head-to-head comparison, SMART/PAYT cities had 356 lbs. per capita of waste vs. 645 lbs. per capita in cities without it.

Unit pricing lowers the overall trash cost by reducing disposal costs as well as giving individuals a means to control their costs. Residents that are currently recycling well and not generating much trash are currently subsidizing those properties that are abusing the system. With unit pricing, the good recyclers save because they use fewer bags.

Further, unit pricing encourages residents to participate in new recycling programs like the food composting program launching in Greenwich. For every 10,000 households composting at home, between 1,400 and 5,000 tons per year could be diverted from curbside collection, with potential savings in avoided disposal costs alone ranging from $72,000 to $250,000.

(See: Yes, in My Back Yard: A Home Composting Guide for Local Government.)

Greenwich has a finite budget, so money spent on incineration and tipping fees is money that cannot be spent on other critical municipal services.

In the face of a solid waste crisis, cities and towns statewide are looking for solutions other than more expensive and polluting incinerators, an old paradigm solution. By implementing unit pricing, Greenwich can be an important example of how local decisions impact the city, the state and the climate.

* The author assists cities, communities and small businesses in recovering materials from the waste stream and adding value to these materials through processing and manufacturing for economic growth. Seldman can be contacted at [email protected]