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Recycling and Other Complementary Programs

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Complementary programs are municipal services such as recycling and composting of yard waste designed to supplement basic trash collection and disposal. In most communities, complementary programs are integral to pay-as-you-throw. These additional services provide residents with a viable alternative to trash disposal while offering municipalities the potential for additional revenue.

Communities with pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) typically offer an array of complementary programs and services, including:

Recycling and composting programs enhance PAYT by offering residents another way to reduce the amount of waste they discard. Services like backyard and bulky waste collections help make it easier for residents to manage their household trash.

While increased services may affect administrative and staffing needs, communities with PAYT have found that providing complementary programs greatly increases overall citizen acceptance of-and participation in-their variable-rate programs. In addition, the temptation to illegally dump or burn trash is also reduced when residents are provided with recycling, composting, and other legal alternatives to disposal.

Solid waste planners typically include information about recycling, composting, or other complementary programs in their public education and outreach efforts. Residents need to be clearly informed about how to participate in these programs. Public education also will help to cut down on any enforcement issues that may arise from residents not realizing what they can and cannot recycle or compost.

Planners will need to find ways to pay for any complementary programs they choose to adopt. But by including the cost of these services in their rate structure design, a community can generate sufficient revenue to support its entire solid waste program. To help decide which complementary programs to implement, communities often refer back to the goals they established when planning for PAYT.

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Photo of Recycling Bin

Recycling is one of the most common complementary services offered by communities charging a variable rate for trash services. In fact, most planners consider recycling to be a major factor in the success of their programs. Some communities have in place curbside collection or recycling drop-off services prior to implementing PAYT. Variable rate fees offer these communities a way to encourage greater participation in recycling and increase the amount of local material recovered. (Research on the topic has shown that in most cases, recycling rates are higher after implementing PAYT. For a summary of recent studies on this topic, see the Fall 1997 PAYT Bulletin.) For other communities, an interest in establishing a recycling program is a major catalyst behind the decision to offer residents variable rates for trash services.

One important variable in any recycling program is its perceived convenience. A community will more fully realize the benefits of offering recycling in tandem with PAYT if residents view the program as easy to understand and use. This often entails collecting as wide a range of recyclable materials as local markets will allow.

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Yard waste collection

Yard waste programs, including backyard composting, "grasscycling" (leaving grass trimmings on the lawn), and collecting yard trimmings such as leaves, branches, prunings, and grass clippings, also can strengthen a PAYT program. Many communities have found that composting helps residents divert from disposal a large portion of the waste they would otherwise have to pay to dispose of. As a result, composting programs can significantly enhance residents' willingness to support PAYT.

Communities embarking on a composting program will need to find ways to use the collected material. Potential uses range from producing and selling finished, garden-quality compost to mulching yard trimmings for use in municipal landscaping projects. In addition, planners might want to review carefully local regulations pertaining to these programs. Some communities have been required to pass local ordinances to permit backyard composting.

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Backyard collection services

Offering backyard collection of waste and recyclables is another strategy that can enhance a community's PAYT program. Rather than take the material to the curb themselves, residents in communities with backyard collection programs can pay an additional fee to have their trash and recyclables hauled from backyards, garages, or other specified locations. (Whether or not they choose to offer this service, some communities might need to make backyard collections available to residents with special needs.) When setting a price for backyard collection services, planners should consider first the base costs of curbside collection. The charge for backyard waste removal should reflect the added staff time and other resources required to perform this service.

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Curbside collection of bulky items

Curbside collection of bulky items-such as furniture, refrigerators, and other large items-is a service typically offered by communities. In some communities with PAYT, residents pay extra to have bulky items picked up and disposed of by the municipality or private hauler. The program can charge for the disposal of bulky items by asking residents to attach a certain number of printed stickers, tags, or even bags to the item. Some communities choose to bill residents after collection based on the weight or dimensions of the object. To establish fair prices, planners can use the same collection, transportation, and disposal cost considerations they use to set prices for their PAYT waste collections. Communities often publish a price disposal list for typical bulky items.

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Planning for complementary programs

Establishing complementary programs requires careful planning and coordination. Depending upon available resources and local conditions, these steps could include purchasing or modifying equipment, identifying local markets for recyclables, and contracting with buyers. Administrative and staffing needs also need to be considered. Additional collection crews may need to be hired and trained, along with administrative staff to handle any increased billing and operational demands. In addition, planners might need to allocate staff time and resources to accurately monitor and evaluate complementary programs. This will allow for a reallocation of resources among programs, if needed, to optimize the overall effectiveness of the PAYT effort.

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Additional resources

For answers to questions concerning complementary programs and how they can enhance a PAYT program, visit recycling and other complementary programs in the Frequent Questions section of this Web site.

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