Environmental Focus on Kingston: Why Pay As You Throw?

The City of Kingston has a mounting waste management problem.  Forced reductions in budgets and workforce due to economic shortcomings will only put a temporary bandage on a hemorrhaging situation.

The reason is simple; weekly, unenforced curbside collection and hauling our garbage more than 250 miles away to the Seneca Meadows Landfill, is extremely expensive and is getting more so with each passing year.

In 2008 the city paid tipping fees of $71/ton to UCRRA, who ultimately hauls the waste upstate.  The national average is $42.08/ton.

It’s time to fundamentally rethink the ways we manage our waste disposal methods.  Public opposition is understandable and expected.  After all, as my mother explained to me without batting an eyelash, traditional weekly collection of garbage is number one on the list of Kingston’s Ten Commandments. And she was serious.

I didn’t say it would be a popular idea among citizens, but here’s why it should be:

1. Pay As You Throw (PAYT) encourages equity among users by charging fees based on the amount of waste a household actually disposes of.  It treats garbage disposal more like a utility such as your electric, water or phone bill.  Rather than charging everyone the same embedded fee in annual taxes, it allows the customer to have control over what they pay by controlling what they throw out.  It provides a direct link to consumer behavior and the cost generated by it.

2. Research shows that users of PAYT programs will alter their waste disposal habits in a number of positive ways in an effort to produce less waste and therefore pay less for disposal costs.  In terms of buying habits, consumers will be more likely to buy frequently used items in bulk in an effort to reduce packaging wastes.  Recycling habits improve, and items once carelessly tossed can be viewed as having a valuable reuse.  PAYT also motivates users to compost yard waste and kitchen scraps as another proven method of keeping excess waste from their personal waste stream.

This has a positive environmental impact given that the average person generates 4.4 pounds of garbage a day.

This approach to waste disposal is not new.  Over the past decade it has really taken off and gained popularity among municipalities across the nation.  In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated there were over 7,000 communities across the country that employ a PAYT system.  This included 42% of communities in NYS.  These programs report an overall waste disposal average decrease of 14-27% and an increase in recycling rates typically between 32-59%.

Here in Kingston the topic was first introduced in 2003, when city resident Emilie Hauser worked with several aldermen to propose studying the potential benefits it could have on our tax dollars and environment.  It was brought up again in early March 2008 by city environmental educator Steve Noble.  The most recent discussion on it came from the mayor’s office just last month.  We think now is the time for the Common Council to roll up their sleeves and take a serious look at the merits of PAYT.  If after doing their homework on the issue they determine it not to right for Kingston, then we expect them to put forth another viable solution.

All PAYT systems are not created equal.  Communities tend to create hybrid programs that meet and address their specific needs.  Typically users purchase disposal bags, tags or vouchers directly from the municipality.  Another possibility is the mandated purchase and use of specifically sized collection containers.  Payment options can include a direct sale purchase, use of a voucher system, monthly, quarterly or budget billing.  Some communities make allowances for seniors on fixed incomes and families that fall below certain income levels by offering subsidies, incentives or rebates to help control costs.

The constant in all successful applications of this method of waste management is that education and public involvement are critical to rendering it successful.  The EPA suggests that well implemented plans are phased in over an 18 month period.  During that time the ultimate goals desired from such a program are developed as well as a timeline for implementation.  Studies and data collection of volume and type of waste the community produces are conducted, joint citizen/official panel task forces are formed, and educational outreach programs begin.  During this time decisions on container options, rates structured plans, pilot programs, changes in city ordinances, and plans for effective enforcement need to be meted out.   Even beyond final implementation, educational outreach programs and enforcement need to continue.

Whether or not you love or hate the concept of Pay As You Throw, given our current economic development and path, you may not have a say on the ultimate decision.  Dragging our feet on an issue that is well researched, studied, documented and used by thousands of communities is doing us more harm than good.  The time is perfect for interested citizens to do their own research and to step forward to motivate our elected officials on moving one way or another on this important topic.

Maintaining status quo is no longer an acceptable approach.

Did You Know: The EPA has volumes of information on the subject and is a great place to get your feet wet!  You can start educating yourself by clicking here.

Don’t leave until you take our survey!  We want to know where you stand on this!

– Wilbur Girl