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PAYT Bulletin: Winter 2002

The PAYT Bulletin is designed to help solid waste planners and others get the latest pay-as-you-throw news and events. Use the links below to read articles from the Winter 2002 issue. To review other issues of the Bulletin, use the links on the right side of this page.

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Large Cities Use PAYT To Overcome Unique Challenges

5,245 PAYT programs continue to gain popularity in cities large and small across North America.

More than 5,000 PAYT programs continue to gain popularity in cities large and small across North America. A recent study by Seattle-based Skumatz Economic Research Associates found that 5,245 cities in North America now have PAYT programs. More than 60 cities in the United States with populations greater than 100,000 practice PAYT—representing nearly 25 percent of all U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents. The 2000 US Census shows nearly one-third of US residents live in cities with populations of 100,000 or more. So PAYT is becoming a common practice for more and more residents in the county.

PAYT is a proven method for reducing waste generation, and setting up these programs in larger communities would reach a greater portion of the population, potentially reducing the US waste generation rate significantly. And with the help of EPA’s America Big Cities Program, a technical assistance program to help large cities set up PAYT programs (see related article, page 3), even more large cities across the United States will start practicing PAYT.

In April 2001, the Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI) released Pay-As-You-Throw for Large Municipalities. The report describes the problems large municipalities typically encounter with PAYT programs and how several large US cities are overcoming them. The information comes from a PAYT roundtable funded by EPA Region 2, held December 2000, hosted by the New York City Department of Sanitation and CWMI. The event was the fourth in a series of roundtables designed to consider waste management strategies for New York City after Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island closes.


Both EPA and Cornell research show that rate-structure design is a critical element to all PAYT programs. Rates have to be high enough to cover program costs and provide an incentive for residents to produce less waste, but not so high that they create an intolerable burden on the community. Some cities charge a flat fee for a set amount of garbage, so reducing garbage output by half subsequently lowers bills by half. Other cities, including Seattle, Washington, and Austin, Texas, charge fees based on the size and number of garbage containers residents put out for collection.

Choosing the right container is another practical and important issue for the city, in terms of designing a rate structure, and the residents, in terms of convenience and cost. Many large cities found that using containers instead of bags decreases pest infestation. Containers are easily handled by automated collection trucks, but parked cars can prevent trucks from reaching containers on the curb. The city of San Francisco, California, found that PAYT works well when collection workers wheel containers larger than 30 gallons to the truck and empty them automatically, while smaller containers are emptied manually.


Seattle provides residents with a choice of 10-, 20-, 30-, 60-, or 90-gallon containers—larger containers cost more than smaller ones. Austin offers a choice of 30-, 60-, or 90-gallon containers and charges a flat fee of $7 per month, plus a rate charge based on container size and quantity. The total charge appears on residents’ municipal utility bills. Austin also lets residents buy extra garbage “stickers” for weeks when their garbage capacity exceeds container size. Both cities use the revenue generated by PAYT to cover costs for solid waste education, transfer stations, recycling, and disposal.

Several solutions also exist for a corollary of rate structure design, which is ensuring that households pay their waste bills. For health and safety reasons, cities cannot discontinue garbage collection if residents don’t pay their bills, so cities have to devise special enforcement strategies. The city of Seattle issues water and garbage bills jointly so that, if the city only receives partial payment, the money covers garbage collection, and the city can shut off water for nonpayment. The city of Buffalo, New York, applies unpaid garbage bills to the property tax bill.

Approximately 10 percent of the 5,000 PAYT communities nationwide, including Austin, have adopted some form of subsidy program to help low-income residents pay their garbage bill. Austin’s program also offers educational assistance to low-income customers to help them reduce waste.

Large cities often must administer PAYT in multi-family buildings where residents deposit garbage in communal bins. In New York City, for example, approximately 70 percent of the city’s 8 million residents live in multi-unit buildings. Some cities, such as Austin and San Francisco, consider smaller buildings of four to six units as single households and require them to participate in PAYT programs. Larger complexes and city agencies are treated as commercial properties, which are serviced by private haulers. Other cities simply omit all complexes from the program. One system that demonstrates how to make PAYT work in large complexes uses special chutes that require tenants to sort garbage and recyclables and charges residents for each container of garbage they throw out.

Want to promote your community’s PAYT program?
Contact payt@icfi.com to share your community’s PAYT success stories with the readers of the PAYT Bulletin.

Historically, the number-one fear identified by cities in implementing PAYT has been illegal dumping, but Cornell’s study corroborates EPA-funded research by Duke University, which found that this is not as big a problem as often feared. Austin and San Francisco noted that they have not seen an increase in illegal dumping since starting PAYT. If resistance stemming from dumping and other concerns becomes a barrier to implementing PAYT, then a desire to decrease waste generation, a need for new municipal revenue, or citizens’ concern about the equity of the existing garbage collection system all can provide significant motivation.

For more information or to view a copy of the report, visit the CWMI Web site Exit EPA

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Boulder Uses PAYT To Roll Fewer Cans to Curb Boulder Uses PAYT To Roll Fewer Cans to Curb

On Nov. 1, the city of Boulder, Colorado, launched a new curbside trash program featuring variable-rate trash collection combined with expanded recycling. The program culminates months of research on how to restructure the city’s waste collection system to reach Boulder’s 50 percent waste diversion goal. Under a new city ordinance, Boulder’s private enterprise trash haulers charge by the can and collect an expanded assortment of recyclables.

Boulder’s new PAYT program motivates residents to produce less trash, because adding another trash unit is expensive, sometimes costing twice as much as the first. In the previous system, adding a second or third trash unit to their curbside service cost citizens only a dollar or two, so adding another can didn’t hurt. Now citizens check their pocketbooks before subscribing to another can. Boulder hopes that between the economic incentive and new recycling programs, residents will reduce the number of cans collected per week, hence reducing the amount of waste generated.

“We paired two opportunities together—starting up a PAYT program and starting up significant new recycling programs, including a program for hard-to-recycle items,” said Kara Dinhoffer, Boulder’s recycling coordinator. Curbside collection not only includes the usual newspaper, glass, and aluminum streams, but also sorted mail and office paper, magazines and catalogs, and milk cartons and juice boxes. To handle the larger stream of recyclables, Boulder teamed with EcoCycle, an innovative nonprofit recycler in Boulder, to open a new materials recycling facility earlier this year.

Boulder also is working with EcoCycle to find a permanent home for its hard-to-recycle (HTR) center, which recycles computers, electronics, furniture, textiles, carpet, and anything else with contents worth using again. EcoCycle estimates that an HTR facility could reuse and recycle an additional 7 percent or more of the residential waste stream.

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Meeting the Challenge

Boulder needed to overhaul its previous system when the cost to run its municipal curbside recycling program was growing faster than the revenues generated by a “trash tax” collected through each citizen’s garbage bill. Money raised through the trash tax was not enough for the city to fund curbside recycling, plus yard waste and educational programs. Boulder residents also wanted more opportunities for recycling. The city responded with the new ordinance, which, by including PAYT, fulfilled several interconnected objectives.

The new ordinance transfers responsibility for collecting curbside recyclables from the city to private trash haulers. By transferring recycling responsibilities to the haulers, the city could reallocate nearly $880,000 in trash tax revenues it was spending annually on curbside recycling. Under the new ordinance, the trash tax now funds new programs such as composting seminars, yard waste pickup, construction and demolition waste education, and new HTR services.

“The new city ordinance requires waste haulers to provide ‘unlimited’ curbside recycling,” said Mark Ruzzin of EcoCycle. “This means that waste haulers cannot charge residents a surcharge for overfilling the recycling container.” Because the city’s goal is for each customer to be a “one-can” household, the city worked with haulers to structure a system that allows them to cover the cost of unlimited recycling, while still motivating citizens to generate less trash.

To help citizens who strive to be “one-canners,” the city offers residents a waste audit to help each household identify ways they can reduce waste. Typical options include taking full advantage of curbside recycling and composting programs and purchasing items with reduced packaging. In addition, the city is exploring the possibility of subsidizing weekly yard waste pickup in the spring. The city also is continuing to expand educational programs that teach citizens how to minimize waste and recycle more.

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Measuring the Progress

The ability to measure success is a vital component of a PAYT program. According to Kara Dinhoffer, it has been difficult to measure progress toward the 50 percent waste diversion goal, because Colorado has required minimal reporting for landfills, trash haulers, and other waste managers. The ordinance requires haulers to report the amount of trash and recycling they pick up from residents.

“For the first time, we can see our waste generation rate and recycling rate. Over time, we can measure our progress,” Dinhoffer said. “As we understand our waste streams, Boulder can expand opportunities for curbside recycling and programs to recycle more challenging items.”

For more information on Boulder’s program, contact Kara Dinhoffer, Boulder’s recycling coordinator, at 303 441-3004, or visit Boulder’s Web site Exit EPA.

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EPA Takes PAYT Campaign to Philadelphia and Dubuque

EPA’s American Big Cities (ABC) Campaign—aimed at promoting the benefits of PAYT programs to US cities with populations greater than 50,000—was in full swing this summer and early fall. EPA participated in workshops in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Dubuque, Iowa, to talk to local and regional city officials about how and why to start a PAYT program.

Planting Seeds in Philadelphia

PA state map

The city of Philadelphia hosted a workshop to plant the seeds for setting up PAYT programs in the city and in other localities in the region. Representatives from the Philadelphia Recycling Office, the Department of Streets, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and EPA Region 3, along with officials from the cities of Abington, Scranton, and Penn Township, Pennsylvania, and Dover, Delaware, gathered in late August to participate in the workshop.

PAYT champions from Perkasie Borough and York County, Pennsylvania, shared the keys to their programs’ success. With a strong emphasis on continuing citizen education and active enforcement, city representatives talked about rate-structure and container options and overviewed the pros and cons to setting up PAYT programs.

York County’s Gene Hejmenowski, who started up and still runs the county’s program, personally inspects residents’ garbage and recycling bins to make sure people are recycling all that they can. When residents deposit trash in their recycling bin, he leaves a warning that haulers will not pick up contaminated recyclables, and when residents recycle properly, he leaves a note with praise and encouragement.
Hejmenowski’s infectious enthusiasm and leadership abilities have gained him the respect of the townspeople and has inspired citizens—from school children to business leaders—to recycle more materials and throw away less trash. His goal is to spread the word about PAYT throughout Pennsylvania and encourage other communities to follow York County’s model.

PAYT Economic Consultant John Gibson reviewed technical issues, including strategic planning, drafting a timeline for setting up a PAYT program, billing and rate-setting specifics, and enforcement issues. The second half of the workshop was structured as a question-and-answer roundtable, so city representatives could benefit from the expertise of EPA representatives and cities with PAYT programs in place.

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Dubuque Ready To Kick Off PAYTIowa  state map

The city of Dubuque, Iowa, with a population of 58,000, plans to start up a PAYT program by summer 2002. At the Dubuque PAYT workshop, held in October, city officials and EPA focused on what type of container would work best for the city’s participants and how the program would work financially.

The EPA technical assistance staff found a surprising problem for the city of Dubuque—regional climactic and geographic conditions. Heavy winds can blow cans and lids down the street, and the frequent winter snowfall piled on top of containers can make them hard for residents to maneuver. As a result, choosing the right container is not a simple task. Hills and narrow streets and houses built near sharp drop-offs also can make it difficult for some residents to set out heavy carts. But using bags is not necessarily the solution either. Residents also are concerned about animals breaking through bags and scattering garbage in the streets. Dubuque officials learned from EPA how other cities have dealt with these issues.

The city of Dubuque will involve citizens every step of the way in planning and implementing its PAYT program. A survey conducted by the city shows that residents are supportive overall of setting up a PAYT program. In a city of traditional values and strong-minded individuals, residents want to recycle their discards and throw less trash in the landfill.

City officials have asked residents what type of container they would like to use, and residents are split on whether bags or cans are a better option. The city has been communicating the details of the forthcoming PAYT program by holding citizen meetings to talk about the programs and address residents’ concerns.

Gibson reviewed rate-structure options by plugging in costs and population statistics from the city of Dubuque into his RateMaker software program. Gibson demonstrated the estimated revenues the city would bring in based on the costs to residents of using different-sized containers or number of bags.

In the past 3 years, EPA has held PAYT workshops in Fort Worth, Texas; Ann Arbor, Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Lowell, Massachusetts.

For more information on the PAYT ABC Campaign, contact Jan Canterbury at 703 308-7264, or by e-mail at Canterbury.Janice@epa.gov. For more information about York County, Pennsylvania’s, PAYT program, contact Gene Hejmenowski at 717 637-1561. To order copies of the PAYT Tool Kit, PAYT video, or other materials, visit the PAYT Web site, or call the PAYT Helpline at 888 EPA-PAYT.

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