Waste Free Greenwich: The Honeymoon Is Over – Tipping Fees Fail

By Julie DesChamps, Chair, Waste Free Greenwich

Regret. That’s what many Greenwich residents are feeling these days with yet another looming increase to their hauling bill after the Board of Selectmen raised the per ton tipping fee from $112 to $119.

In 2020, the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting voted down Pay As You Throw (PAYT), a strategy that promised to reduce municipal solid waste by at least 40% and significantly cut the costs of waste management. Instead, the elected body favored a tipping fee system.

Haulers promptly passed the fees onto their customers, raising rates considerably, an average increase of 31% or $189 annually, according to one study. Houses of worship and nonprofits were hardest hit with their bills increasing 40-100%. With PAYT, we would have retained control over pricing; now the hauling companies determine our rate.

At first, tonnages at Greenwich’s transfer station fell, as some commercial haulers brought their loads to out-of-town facilities to avoid the new fees. Town leaders proclaimed the program to be “a huge success,” touting these artificial reductions in waste and increased municipal revenues.

Four years later, the honeymoon is over in Greenwich. Without the incentive to reduce waste with PAYT, Greenwich has generated more trash every year. By 2025, it’s projected that the waste generated in our town will reach 40,000 tons, up from a pre-pandemic 36,000 tons. The tipping fee increase is designed to address the cost of these growing tonnages and other rising operational and disposal fees, which hauling customers will inevitably absorb.

This is only the tip of the iceberg for Greenwich. Our state is experiencing a waste crisis with 40% of Connecticut’s waste now shipped out of state to be burned or landfilled. The Peekskill, NY incinerator where Greenwich’s trash is burned is slated for closure in 2029. With a dearth of disposal capacity in the region, costs will rise exponentially, continuing to strain the municipal budget and burden residents.

Greenwich needs to change course and scale up efforts to reduce waste. Recently, our community celebrated two milestones. The voluntary food scrap recycling program surpassed a total 200,000 pounds collected, and the Greenwich Recycling Advisory Board’s textile recycling program hit the 250,000 pound mark. Both programs, stated priorities of the First Selectman’s FY 22/23 operations plans, are a step in the right direction, but they are not moving the needle.

The tonnages collected are only a minute fraction – 0.5% – of the 80 million pounds of municipal solid waste generated in Greenwich. Yet, food scraps and textiles make up 22.3% and 5.7% respectively of the state’s waste stream, according to CT DEEP. With stronger policies and investment, Greenwich could potentially divert 28% or 22.4 million pounds of waste annually, the equivalent of $1.3 million in tipping fees, just by focusing its efforts on food scraps and textiles.

To achieve this diversion, Waste Free Greenwich makes the following recommendations:

• Support the education and enforcement of the commercial composting law, effective January 1, 2025.

• Promote food donation and adopt a food waste prevention program for residents, schools and businesses.

• Expand the food scrap recycling program by installing convenient collection bins throughout town or by adopting a curbside co-collection program.

• Grow the textile recycling program with additional collection bins and curbside pickup.

• Update and implement the decade-old master plan to renovate Holly Hill Resource Recovery Facility and increase staffing.

• Set a municipal goal of 60% waste reduction to mirror the state’s objective and create an implementation plan.

Raising the tipping fee is a band-aid, a shortsighted, temporary solution. The budgetary cure is the reduction of waste through prevention, recycling and diversion, which requires the commitment of town leadership and community members.