Only Pay For What You Throw Away: Three Different Approaches to Waste Disposal

Biocycle (1989) February Issue, pp.39-41.
The current waste reduction programs of three American towns, Woodstock, Illinois, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, and High Bridge, New Jersey are examined. Woodstock, Illinois uses a voluntary approach to waste reduction and a private firm performs collection. Overall, they have an 88% participation rate. Thirty-two gallon trash bags with the firm logo cost $1.22 a bag and are sold in bundles of 20 from City Hall. There is no minimum fee and the bag costs reflect garbage disposal costs. The people can also rent a plastic cart equal to three bags as an alternative. In addition, the town has a curbside recycling program with the same pick up day as garbage. A drop off and buy back recycling center was introduced in September 1988 and handles items like cardboard, plastic, and magazines which cannot be picked up at the curb. High Bridge, New Jersey had a different approach. They bill residents quarterly for its mandatory municipal collection program. For a $200 fee, residents received 52 orange stickers, one for each 25 pounds of non-recyclable trash. Furniture can be thrown out as well, but more stickers are needed. Residents can buy extra stickers for $1.65 each at a local hall or through mail order. There is a monthly curbside recycling collection and a private company that recycles newspaper, corrugated cardboard, aluminum, and glass. Perkasie, Pennsylvania had a mandatory, municipal, pay per bag trash collection and recycling program. The residents can buy either a 20-pound bag for $0.85 or a 40-pound bag for $1.50. The price of the bag included disposal costs. Trash is only picked up in these bags, which are easily identified by a tree logo. Individuals can purchase the bags from local stores or the town hall. The town also has a weekly curbside collection of glass and aluminum in blue buckets and monthly curbside recycling for newspaper. There is a drop off center at the rear of the town hall for other recyclables. A local organization breaks the glass and sells it but the proceeds from other recyclables go to the town.

In Woodstock, Illinois, the resistance diminished after the first six months and people thought it made sense and saved money. Four hundred people were surveyed demonstrating that people think the pay per bag is fair and that it was important to reduce waste. The program produced 625 tons of recyclable materials in 1988 and the amount of curbside and drop off recycling doubled. In November of 1988, the town received an award for diverting 10% of the residential waste through recycling. In Perkasie, Pennsylvania, detailed questionnaires were mailed to 3230 households. A 42% response revealed that 93% believe the pay per bag program should continue and 79% of respondents said that the bag program was less expensive than their previous waste disposal program. There were 39 respondents in Perkasie with six or more in the family: 19 said the program was less expensive and 20 said it was more expensive. Others requested things like biodegradable bags, stronger bags, and bags small enough to fit in a trash compactor. Moreover, they wanted to expand the recycling program to include plastic bottles, aluminum foil, and used oil and to increase the frequency of newspaper pickup. When the town examined the numbers, there was a 40% decrease in tonnage of waste from 3000 tons to 1800 tons in 1988 and there was a savings of $70 000 in avoided landfill fees. Furthermore, in High Bridge, New Jersey, the feedback from the town was positive. Some people reported changing their shopping habits by buying recyclable items so they do not have to pay for disposal. The town receives five dollars per ton of recyclables (but sometimes more from a private dealer) and pays $125 per ton of trash. Therefore, they save money by recycling. The tonnage of trash decreased by 24% in the first ten months of 1988, and the program increased the tonnage recycled. Overall, the recycling and waste disposal programs in all three towns were considered a success and were expected to continue. All three towns saved money and helped to reduce landfill waste and increase recycling programs.
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