The Albany landfill is running out of space. In fact, it's expected to be full by the end of next year. The city has been trying to get the state DEC to approve an expansion of the facility, but the DEC bounced the first few proposals and said something along the lines of "Come on. You're not even trying."
So the latest draft proposal includes a few strategies for reducing the amount of garbage thrown into the landfill. Among them is something called "pay-as-you-throw." It's pretty much what is sounds like -- the more you throw out, the more you pay.
OK, so does that actually work? We went dumpster diving for answers.
How's it work?
The technical term for pay-as-you-throw is "variable rate" or "unit-based" pricing -- it's friends mostly call it PAYT. There are a handful of different ways to go about this pricing. The most popular include city-issued trash cans, specially marked trash bags and stickers for regular trash bags (kind of like stamps). Whatever the method, it's all about attaching a cost to putting stuff out at the curb. The more stuff, the more it costs -- and the hope is people will reduce their garbage output as a result.
How many places use it?
Apparently, PAYT has taken off over the last decade after the federal EPA started pushing it. An article in Municipal Solid Waste Management (yes, we really did read it) reports that PAYT has been a "phenomenal success" over that time. More than 7,000 communities around the country now use it, including about 42 percent of the communities in New York State.
Does it actually work?
According to a study conducted by a consulting group, PAYT decreases trash disposal by 16-17 percent on average and increases recycling by 5-6 percent.
Won't it be a huge hassle, though?
Maybe. Surveys indicate that people end up liking PAYT because they see it as fairer than the "dump as much as you want" systems. That said, the switch doesn't always go smoothly. When Athens, Georgia first made the switch, people were upset about being explicitly charged for garbage collection -- so they just didn't go along with it. People did eventually get on board, though. Apparently having enough customer service reps to answer questions and get the word out is a big issue when a city makes the switch.
OK, but what about here?
That's a good question. The situation with the Albany landfill is kind of complicated. People in the City of Albany aren't explicitly charged for garbage collection now, so that's going to be an adjustment (see Athens, GA). The other tricky part is that the city makes money by taking garbage from surrounding towns -- about $13 million a year (about 8 percent of the budget). If there's less trash, there's less revenue.
But there might be other ways of making up the difference. As an RPI professor recently pointed out, the city could probably make some money by doing a better job of picking out valuable recyclable materials from its garbage. That would also reduce the amount of garbage going into the landfill.
So has anyone lived in a place with pay-as-you-throw? How was it? Our logical side says "Sure, bring it on." But the "Oh, great, one more thing to worry about as we drag our trash cans and recycling to the curb in the rain" side of us isn't so excited.
The Bottom Line
There seems to be a lot of evidence that pay-as-you-throw garbage plans do reduce the amount of trash people throw out. People even seem to like the idea... eventually.
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