The South Portland City Council is set to hold a workshop on Thursday to discuss implementing a citywide “Pay As You Throw” (PAYT) program for trash removal, intended to be coupled with a curbside food waste collection program.
The meeting’s agenda says the purpose of the upcoming workshop is to “provide information to Councilors and the public about the rationale for a PAYT program and what options exist.”
Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach and Sustainability Program Manager Susan Parmelee will be present at the workshop to share additional information and answer questions.
A memo from Rosenbach and Parmelee, attached to the workshop agenda, goes into more detail about the program under consideration.
Rosenbach and Parmelee define the proposed program in the following manner:
PAYT is the term for a program that charges residents for the collection of municipal solid waste based on the quantity they throw away. By charging based on use, PAYT treats trash the same as electricity, natural gas, or any other utility, creating an economic incentive to produce less
trash. The revenue from the PAYT program would allow the City to offer both curbside recycling and food waste collection at no additional cost to residents. Introducing a PAYT program in conjunction with curbside food waste collection will further encourage residents to divert food waste from their trash.
The memo then goes on to outline “the specific reasoning for adopting a PAYT system along with curbside food waste collection.” Among the reasons listed are a stagnant recycling rate, increasing solid waste collection costs, and the goal of reducing of greenhouse gas emissions by diverting recyclables and food waste away from landfills.
Also integral to their logic is the argument that “trash is a utility.” Rosenbach and Parmelee explain this line of reasoning as follows:
South Portland’s current trash disposal system requires households to pay one price – the same price – for trash disposal regardless of how much they produce. PAYT programs provide unit-based pricing for trash disposal, creating a direct economic incentive for households to reduce the amount of trash they produce and recycle more. Our view is that trash disposal is a utility, just like electricity or natural gas. PAYT will charge households based on the quantity of trash generated, the same way they are charged for other utilities. The more trash produced, the higher the associated fee. For this reason, PAYT is a more equitable system.
They also argue in their memo that “PAYT programs work – that is undeniable.” To support this claim, they cite statistics showing increased recycling rates in Massachusetts and reduced trash production per capita in Maine where PAYT programs have been implemented.
There are several different PAYT models under consideration, each carrying a price tag of between $115 and $127 annually per household.
To offset this cost for low-income residents, Rosenbach and Parmelee suggest that residents who qualify for assistance programs be eligible for subsidized or free trash removal.
The proposed opt-out curbside food waste collection program would be free of charge. Rosenbach and Parmelee estimate that it would cost the city, however, approximately $522,000 per year.
They also estimate that PAYT trash collection would cost the City of South Portland somewhere between $2 million and $2.2 million per year, depending upon the model selected.
According the the workshop agenda for June 15, if City Councilors choose to pursue one of the proposed PAYT models, another workshop will be scheduled in the coming months to determine what such a program would look like in practice for South Portland.