Raleigh mulls “pay as you throw” garbage fees to encourage recycling

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2014 

— City leaders are looking at creative ways to increase recycling, including a plan that would bill residents based on how much trash they leave at the curb.

Raleigh City Council members got a presentation last week on multiple options to cut down on landfill use, and they asked city staffers to return with detailed data. The approach generating the most interest is called “pay as you throw,” a program that allows residents to choose the size of their trash cart. Households using smaller carts would pay less each month.

Councilman Bonner Gaylord says he likes the idea. With two children in diapers, he says his family generates far more trash than their neighbors.

“I’m paying the same amount as a senior citizen who may be generating a bag a week,” he said. “I’d like to try to get a model that’s more fair and penalizes people like me who aren’t being assessed fairly.”

The program could cut garbage headed to the landfill by up to 30 percent, solid waste services director Fred Battle said. The amount of recycling collected, he said, could increase by 30 to 60 percent. Depending on how many recyclables are diverted from the landfill, Raleigh could save between $115,000 and $1.5 million in disposal costs. But the program could cost millions to start because it would require buying new trash carts. A cheaper option is to sell color-coded trash bags residents would buy instead of paying a monthly bill.

“We will see some increases in illegal dumping, and it could impose a financial hardship on some residents,” Battle said.

That aspect of “pay as you throw” worries Councilman Eugene Weeks, who represents Southeast Raleigh. “I see more cons than I see pros,” he said. “It’s already a hardship now with some of the fees we’re putting out there.”

Councilman Thomas Crowder said he wants to be sure businesses are doing their part to recycle. Many of them use private garbage services and don’t pay Raleigh’s fees. “If we’re truly going to look at reducing waste, it’s got to be commercial, multi-family and single family” homes, he said.

Another option for increasing recycling is adding service to apartment and townhome communities. About 150 of 800 communities aren’t served by the city because the management prefers dumpsters.

Raleigh could also offer rebates or a rewards program for recycling, or it could simply make the practice mandatory and hire code enforcers to fine people who don’t, Battle said.

John Campbell, whose WasteZero company provides “pay as you throw” services, encouraged the council to approve the program. “You wouldn’t dream of having a flat-rate water structure or flat-rate electricity, and it’s no different for solid waste,” he said. “It’s happening in big cities, and it’s happening with a very dramatic result.”

Councilman Russ Stephenson said Raleigh will benefit from more recycling. Customers here average 0.1 tons of recycling per year; the national average is 0.25 tons per customer.

“We’d be siting, buying and creating fewer solid waste landfills in the future,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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