Half of, and a link to “Pay-As-You-Throw: Clean Solution or Garbage Idea?”

gorillafeb-marchcover300wIn the February-March issue of the Frederick Gorilla magazine, I wrote one of the two halves of a regular feature called “Diametrically Opposed,” in which two people express…well…diametrically opposed points of view about a prominent or controversial local issue.

In this instance, the overall piece was entitled: “Pay-As-You-Throw: Clean Solution Or Garbage Idea?”

Another county resident, Jill King, wrote her half, which was published under the heading “Garbage Idea.” The editors put the heading “Clean Solution” over my contribution to the debate.

Click the link above or below to read the debate on the Frederick Gorilla site (or pick up the magazine around the county). Am reposting my half below.

As you can see from my comments, I hope that Frederick County and some of the municipalities in the county will explore some of the pay as you throw” options out there, for reducing waste and lowering costs.

Clean Solution

Should Frederick County implement PAYT? I don’t know. What I do know is that some forms of PAYT might be an excellent next step, and it would be irresponsible not to take a hard, thorough look at the possibilities.

If there are alternative approaches that reduce waste going into our landfill or long-hauled to out-of-state mega-landfills, reduce the cost to local government, taxpayers, and homeowners and renters, and offer significant environmental benefits, why wouldn’t we want our policymakers to explore these approaches?

Photo by Katie Main

Photo by Katie Main

We aren’t talking about taking a risk with some untested system or technology. Nor would any strategies require the kind of investment, risk, or inflexible long-term commitment associated with the massive, regional incinerator that the county recently backed away from.

Over the last few decades, a variety of PAYT programs have been adopted in more than 7,000 U.S. jurisdictions. That includes almost a third of the 100 largest cities in the country, and every sort of municipality and county in 46 states—small and large, urban and rural, liberal and conservative. It isn’t a radical idea. In fact, it’s odd to see some local conservatives rush to attack the concept since it is, in essence, a market-based approach with strong personal accountability that could lower the cost of a public service.

PAYT creates a direct incentive to recycle more and enables residents to lower household costs. By reducing the overall amount of waste collected in the community, it also lowers the cost to local government for tipping fees at our landfill or the cost of long-distance.

In this way, it is similar to how we all pay for other essential services, such as water and electricity. Partly because we’re used to it, nobody thinks it is odd or unfair to pay more or less based on how much we consume.

Most people understand that a lot more water and electricity would be wasted, and the overall cost of the system would be much greater, if every household paid the same amount. But, that doesn’t mean the decision to adopt a PAYT system is simple or straightforward. Every community brings a different set of circumstances to the discussion. Do residents have the cost of waste collection “hidden” in their general taxes? Do they pay a flat annual rate to their town? Do they pay for the service through a homeowners association? Do they contract on their own with a private hauler?

We have a problem and an opportunity. What we need is a good process for carefully exploring the options, and examining the costs and benefits of different models that might work here. Of course, that might mean taking different approaches in different communities. Without that sort of process, we don’t know which option might work best.

But, if various forms of PAYT collection have been implemented in more than 7,000 communities, and virtually every one of them has experienced cost savings and other positive results, despite the challenges inherent in making the change, it doesn’t make any sense to ignore and dismiss the idea without learning more. We’re smarter than that.

Kai Hagen is the director of Envision Frederick County and a former county commissioner. He has worked on recycling and waste management issues off and on for 25 years.

Frederick Gorilla
Pay-As-You-Throw: Clean Solution or Garbage Idea?
February 2, 2015


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