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Consensus Building

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Communities with pay-as-you-throw are nearly unanimous in listing consensus building as one of the most important elements of a successful program. Solid waste planners need to win over key stakeholders-including residents, elected officials, and others-before design and implementation of pay-as-you-throw can proceed.

Early in the program design process, solid waste planners typically focus on generating support in the community for pay-as-you-throw (PAYT). Once this support has been established, planners can begin their public education and outreach efforts. Public education refers to providing residents with details about the new program and explaining how they can participate in it. In addition, communities in the public education phase often solicit feedback from residents and other stakeholders about the program. At the consensus-building stage, the objective is to increase public acceptance of PAYT and lay the foundation for the design work to follow.

Municipalities typically schedule their consensus-building work to begin at least 9 months before program implementation. Planners usually begin this work by considering the specific groups to involve, the messages that need to be delivered, and the ways in which these individuals and organizations can be reached. When seeking to build a consensus for PAYT, communities often focus on residents, elected officials, municipal officials, and private organizations (including businesses and haulers).

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Because residents are the ones who are most affected by a PAYT program, their support is vital. To build a consensus among residents, planners can begin by gauging their level of awareness of the solid waste issues facing the community. Do they have concerns about the current approach to solid waste management? Are they concerned about what these services cost, both now and in the future, and whether they will have any control over them? Do they think that paying a variable rate for trash services might help bring these costs under control? Understanding their perspective will help planners craft a successful consensus-building approach. It also will prove valuable when decisions need to be made about how the new program will work.

Some residents may react with skepticism when they first hear about PAYT. Initial opposition is often related to a perception that the program will result in an additional financial burden. Opposition also typically stems from a natural resistance to change. In addition, communities in which solid waste management costs are hidden in property taxes may also face an initial lack of support for variable-rate fees. Because they have never paid for trash services directly, residents in these communities might view these fees as simply a new tax.

To counter this opposition, planners can inform residents of the current difficulties associated with solid waste management. Often, the environmental, economic, and equity costs to residents of the current waste management approach are emphasized. Next, they can present the goals they have set for improving the management of waste in the community. In this context, planners can introduce PAYT, discuss its potential for meeting these objectives, and address any questions and concerns that residents have expressed about the new program.

Winning community support for the new program often hinges on explaining how it will help address the local issues of greatest interest to residents. Residents naturally develop a sense of civic pride in programs that focus on such principles as:

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Elected officials

[Photo of Shaking Hands]Elected officials, such as a mayor, town councilors, and selectmen or aldermen, are important contacts for consensus building. Typically, elected officials consider PAYT in terms of how it will be received by their most important constituency: community residents. Planners able to demonstrate an effective consensus-building plan for residents are often able to win the support of elected officials.

To build a consensus among elected officials, planners often consider the potential barriers to PAYT from their perspective. For example, elected officials may be concerned about their authority to change the community's current financial or administrative and staffing arrangements concerning solid waste management. Elected officials and planners together may need to enact specific ordinances to clear the way for the new program. Planners also typically need to show elected officials the measures they will take to ensure that illegal diversion, including dumping or backyard burning of trash, will not be an issue. Throughout the consensus-building process, planners need to remain aware of what is at stake for elected officials. This can make it easier to convince them to support PAYT.

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Municipal staff

Because they are involved in carrying out the day-to-day work of managing trash, public works, solid waste, and other municipal department staff are important. Winning them over will help ensure that daily operations run smoothly and consistently. In addition, their opinions about PAYT matter, both to elected officials and residents. To earn their support, planners often gather information about their potential concerns and adjust the new program in response.

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Private sector

Planners in cities and towns served by private waste haulers often design a program that takes their concerns into account. In most cases, these haulers are very interested in providing input about the community's proposed program. Soliciting the advice of private haulers early in the planning and design phases may result in fewer problems later on in such important areas as enforcement, monitoring and evaluation, providing recycling and other complementary programs, and servicing the elderly, low-income residents, and other special populations.

If a community plans to sell bags, tags, or stickers through local retailers, outreach to local businesses also may be needed. For retailers, the principal issue will be whether to give up valuable shelf or floor space for these items. Frequently, however, retailers appreciate the potential advantages of stocking an item that most everyone in the community will be purchasing on a regular basis.

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Outreach techniques

After deciding which key stakeholders to involve and the kinds of information to communicate, planners often consider the ways in which they can reach these groups. Some of the methods for delivering information about PAYT include:

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Additional resources

Solid waste planners can find additional consensus-building information in the PAYT fact sheet series, including A Fact Sheet for Elected Officials, A Fact Sheet for Civic Groups, and a fact sheet for residents entitled Pay-As-You-Throw: Throw Away Less and Save.

In addition, the workbook found in the Pay-As-You-Throw Tool Kit contains a sample agenda, overheads, and other resources to help planners assemble presentations for residents at public meetings or to be delivered directly to elected officials.

For answers to questions about generating support for a PAYT program, visit consensus building in the Frequent Questions section of this Web site.

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