(image by Alan Levine)
By Mitchell Croom
Last Wednesday, the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy hosted a panel to discuss their proposal to a more environmentally conscious method of waste management. Board Chairman John Campbell and WasteZero President Mark Dancy presented compelling evidence in favor of a “pay as you throw” system of garbage removal. WasteZero executive adviser and former Mayor of Portland, Maine, George Campbell also spoke on behalf of the company, testifying that WasteZero saved residents in communities like Portland 44 percent on their waste-removal costs on average, through reducing the amount of garbage people dispose of. Portland itself, a city of 60,000 residents, saves forty million dollars in tax revenue each year due to increased efficiency in its waste management services. So what exactly is “pay as you throw?”
Most public utilities operate on a fee-for-service basis. At the end of the month, homeowners receive bills based on how much gas, electricity, and water they used. Those who use more, pay more. Solid waste (i.e. garbage) is the notable exception. Residents pay a flat fee for trash collection (which is often factored into property taxes and not shown as a separate fee at all) and may throw out as much trash as they please. This naturally leads to the disposal of more trash than people actually need to discharge, overloading landfills and degrading the environment. It also causes trash collection to become more expensive, as transporting all that garbage takes more time, people, and vehicles, the cost of which is passed on to taxpayers.
Instituting a fee-for-service, or “throw as you go” system, would look something like this: residents purchase specially-marked garbage bags from the grocery store (or wherever). These bags have the seal of your local municipality on them, and are the only ones authorized to be collected by municipal waste managers. The purchase of these bags funds waste management, instead of extra taxes or utility fees for garbage collection. Residents who throw out less trash than average are able to save money, since they no longer have to pay for everyone else’s trash. This system creates an economic incentive to limit one’s garbage output, in stark contrast to the current (flat-rate) economic incentive to free-ride and throw out as much trash as possible.
This program has already seen great successes. WasteZero has been contracted as the leading waste management agency in municipalities across the country. Residents have seen reductions in their taxes and utility fees, and reductions by as much as 50 percent in the amount of solid waste put into landfills. Important issues remain. Concerns linger over the total effect on the economy; some fear it could hurt restaurants, which produce lots of solid waste and are generally not exceptionally profitable businesses; and debate continues over the proper use of newly available tax funds. Additionally, fears about increased illegal dumping (when residents dispose of their trash unlawfully by throwing it into the woods or on the side of the highway) are regularly voiced at town halls and city councils, although incidents of that practice have not increased significantly in towns which have adopted the “throw as you go” system. But in spite of this hesitation, the program seems to be an inspiring success, and WasteZero looks forward to many years of environmentally-conscious waste management.