By Amy Miller
I thought I recycled everything possible. Papers here. Bottles there. Food waste in the yard. Yes, my trash was reduced to simply trash.
Then my town started a Pay-As-You-Throw program. Suddenly there was this system of measurement and it became like a game. Each Blue Bag counted.
And so I began peeling the plastic off window envelopes and separating wire from the plastic packaging around toys. I no longer tossed scrunched up paper in the trash because it didn’t lay flat. It’s really not the money though, since the bags cost only about $1.50 each. It’s the challenge.
National numbers are similar. Once a town starts PAYT programs, as they are known, people start recycling more.
For instance, Malden, Mass. saved $2.5 million annually and reduced solid waste by 50 percent, thanks to its pay-as-you-throw program. The town saves money in two ways – first it gets revenue from the bags. Second, less waste collection also means more money.
A program in Concord, N.H. is saving the city about $528,000 a year and increased recycling by 75 percent. Gloucester, Mass. reduced waste by 29 percent and is saving $300,000-500,000 a year.
More than 7,000 communities are cashing in on the PAYT perks, according to EPA. Some 300 communities helped by WasteZero, a company that helps municipalities implement PAYT, diverted on average 43 percent of their waste, with many communities coming close to 50 percent.
Of course this means we each pay only for how much waste we create. So in that way, if we pollute more, we pay more.
Mark Dancy at Zero Waste noted that if all residents shared the cost of electricity equally, the way we do waste hauling, many people would be much more wasteful with electricity.
A household that recycles typically only needs a 30-gallon bag and a half of garbage a week, according to Darcy.
If you want to know the hard fast facts of how much our trash pollutes, consider that materials, food, and packaging account for 42 percent of green house gas emissions. Just recycling your Sunday paper saves enough power to run your laptop for more than 3,000 hours. Recycling a milk jug every week saves enough power to run your TV for 189 hours.
The EPA has found food makes up the largest part of what goes to landfill – about a fifth. So we’ll talk more about composting another time.
About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.