Many US towns find “pay as you throw” the way to go

Wanda Alves routinely sorts her household trash, putting plastic, cardboard, paper, glass, and metal in recycling bins provided by the city of Brockton. Once a week, she crams everything else into one, 32-gallon bag – to avoid paying an extra US$1 for a second bag.

The Boston Globe reports that Alves’s household ritual – part of a municipal waste disposal programme commonly known as pay-as-you-throw – is becoming increasingly common in Massachusetts as cash-strapped cities and towns look for ways to raise revenue from refuse.

Charging residents for each bag of trash they leave at the kerb or take to the transfer station – sometimes on top of an annual fee for trash collection – can bring in hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, allowing municipalities to cover the cost of rubbish pickup without making cuts elsewhere in tight budgets. About 30 communities will vote on the issue this spring at town meetings or through city councils or boards of aldermen, according to state officials.

”We have seen a huge increase in the number of municipalities interested in pay-as-you-throw,” said Brooke Nash, head of municipal recycling for the state Department of Environmental Protection. ”It includes cities and towns that once thought it would never be politically viable.” Brockton adopted pay-as-you-throw a year-and-a-half ago, just as fiscal problems began to loom. Swansea switched to per-bag fees last fall, and Northborough implemented them in January. Pay-as-you-throw is scheduled to go into effect on July 1 in Natick and Groton.

The policy can be controversial because it requires people to pay extra for something that in many communities has historically been covered by property taxes. Also, some residents prefer a flat fee that allows them to put out as much trash as they want each week.

Facing an US$800,000 budget gap, Northborough selectmen decided last year that pay-as-you-throw was preferable to making cuts or trying to override Proposition 21/2. ”It was basically a financial decision,” said Northborough town engineer Fred Litchfield, who oversees the town’s trash programme.

Swansea, a town of 16,000 on the Rhode Island border, expects to raise more than US$1 million a year from its US$1.50-per-bag fee – on top of a US$70 annual charge for trash collection. Swansea’s fiscal woes were so severe last year that the state considered taking over its finances.

A decade ago, only about 20 Massachusetts communities, most of them small and medium-sized towns, used pay-as-you-throw. The numbers grew in the 1990s as landfills closed and municipalities felt pressure to reduce trash. Today, 100 towns and three cities – Brockton, Worcester, and Taunton – have pay-as-you-throw or some hybrid in which trash disposal is financed via per-bag fees plus annual fees or property taxes.

The annual fees range from US$5 to US$250, but most are in the US$50 to US$100 range. Fees per bag of trash run from 50 cents to US$3.25, with most between US$1 and US$2. Bags are bought from the city or town.

Pay-as-you-throw has been embraced by both environmentalists and some economists as a way to use market forces to reduce trash. Surveys have found that communities that adopt it reduce waste by 14 to 27 per cent, and increase recycling by 32 to 59 per cent.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and the state DEP have promoted the programme by offering technical assistance and promotional materials to communities, and the state offers grants to help cities and towns start pay-as-you-throw programmes.

While residents in most communities have accepted the concept after initial resistance, in some places – notably Chelmsford and Norton – protests forced officials to rescind the fees. Lexington dropped its programme last year after a court challenge on grounds that it violated a town guarantee of free trash service.

Ano da Publicação: 2003
Fonte: WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #15-2003: April 26, 2003
Autor: Kit Strange (Warmer Bulletin)
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