“Pay As You Throw” Overview and FAQs: Why It Makes Sense for Acton

My thanks to Allen for creating a great place for discussing issues. I've been reviewing the articles and comments, including the many questions and comments that came in with the survey, and other questions that came up at the March 4th forum at Town Hall. They've led those of us involved in this effort to do more research, and talk more with users of PAYT systems elsewhere, State staff. Town Staff and the Board of Selectmen. This is exactly what the Forum is for: to encourage more thoughtful conversations driven by data and careful reasoning, beyond the too-abbreviated back and forth at Town Meeting. I hope you’ll find this informative; additional resources are available at http://www.ActonTrash.info.

A PAYT system is the best way to keep costs down at the Transfer Station, because it reliably reduces trash and increases recycling. The experience has been repeated now in 144 Massachusetts communities, and thousands of communities across the world.

In the chart below, you can see that trash disposal for these Massachusetts towns that adopted PAYT was reduced by an average of 48%!. These data include every town in Massachusetts that adopted a PAYT program between 2005 and 2012, and compare the two years before the PAYT program to the three years after the PAYT launch (or as many years as available if less than three).

(source: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/recycle/reports/waste-reduction...)

First, a brief review of what PAYT is, then a description of how the Transfer Station now operates financially, and then how it would work with PAYT. Finally, some frequently asked questions, and then a summary of why to vote to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the town try out a PAYT system.

The Finances of the Transfer Station
The Acton Transfer Station (TS) operations are organized via the Transfer Station Enterprise Fund. No money comes in from the general fund or your taxes to pay for Transfer Station operations. Each year, fees are set so that projected TS income matches TS expenses. By law, the Selectmen are in charge of setting fees, and must make sure that fees are in line with actual costs.

Last year, the cost of running the Transfer Station was $620,000. That's an average of $170 across the 3,662 households using the facility.

The town currently collects that average $170 per household mostly via the $210 regular sticker fee and the $55 senior sticker fee. There's some income from coupon sales for oversized items, and some income from recycling. Trash on the other hand, costs a lot of money to get rid of: 40% of the TS expense is trash disposal costs. It costs the town $75 per ton to dispose of our trash at Devens, plus another $10–$15 per ton to get the trash there. So, anything the town can do to decrease trash, or increase recycling, will help decrease the costs of running the Transfer Station, and reduce the average cost per household.

Staffing the Transfer Station has always needed three people: one for the gatehouse, one for the recycling area, and one in the trash area. Up until a few years ago, the Transfer Station had three employees, but for the last few years staff have been scrambling to fill slots with overtime hours and transferring people in temporarily from other departments. The proposed TS budget for next year has three people once again, and the Town Manager and the director of the department have been clear that they need three people whether or not a PAYT system is introduced. Adding this third person has added very little to overall costs, because the TS will no longer need to pay for a bunch of overtime and outside help. (You can see all this in the proposed Operating Budget: a copy of the December version is here on the town's document sharing system.)

What Is Pay As You Throw?
In a PAYT system, the annual sticker fee drops considerably: the annual sticker income will just cover only the cost of keeping the Transfer Station open, and not the cost of disposing of the trash. Trash will be thrown away in special Acton bags available in three different sizes in local stores. The net proceeds of the bag sales will pay for the cost of disposing of the trash. Everything else remains the same: bulky item fees, recycling, the metal pile, the brush pile, and so on.

From the Town's fiscal point of view, a PAYT system matches income and expenses: no matter how much or how little trash gets thrown away, the Town collects from the bag sales the amount of money needed to dispose of the trash. When we buy an Acton bag, we are buying the right to throw away the amount of trash that we’ll put in that bag.

How Could PAYT Work So Well?
In the current system, Transfer Station users have no financial incentive to reduce trash or to recycle. Many of us do recycle some materials, but a lot of recyclable material still ends up in the trash. The photo below illustrates a typical scene of recyclables in the trash area at the Transfer Station.

That cardboard gets thrown away as trash at $75/ton, instead of as mixed paper, which is free to recycle. Getting more of that cardboard into the recycling area lowers the cost of running the Transfer Station.
When users get special Acton bags from local stores, and start using them, the bags serve as a simple reminder that throwing away less saves money.
In communities that start PAYT programs, some households start throwing away a lot less trash. Some households only reduce by a little, and some not at all. The choice is up to each household. The end result, in town after town, is that a lot less trash is thrown away. This is accomplished in many ways. Many households use some of these options:

  • Recycle more. People take the time to learn more about what is actually recyclable, and do a more complete job. Town staff get a lot more questions about what is recyclable, and anyone that wants to do a better job learns how. Green Acton will be gathering together more detailed information about what is recyclable, and will work with the Town to get that information into people's hands.
  • Give away or sell items instead of throwing them away. The new Swap Shed, opening in the Spring near the donation bins, will give households a chance to leave (and take) gently used items that would otherwise go right into the trash.
  • Compost more. The Transfer Station already accepts lawn and leaf litter in a composting area; many don't take the time to move their leaves and grass clippings over there, and throw them out instead. Also, home composting is an easy possibility for many households; Transfer Station staff are exploring a drop-off area for food waste and kitchen scraps at the Transfer Station.
  • Buying stuff with less non-recyclable packaging, or simply buying less stuff.

Will people start dumping their trash?
This has not been the experience in other PAYT towns. According to Littleton officials, for example, there was no uptick in illegal dumping. The police were alerted to the possibility, but did not see a measurable increase. DEP reports that other towns report the same: any dumping issues that do show up are treated as law enforcement matters, as they are today.

Will I Save Money?
Most households will save money, which is one reason PAYT programs are popular after they are implemented. See this survey, which shows that 79% of participants in PAYT programs are satisfied or very satisfied with the program: http://www.mswmanagement.com/MSW/Articles/25996.aspx.

Here are the proposed TS sticker fees and bag prices with a PAYT system:

I buy a regular sticker now – Will I pay less?
People can evaluate, from the numbers below, whether or not a particular household will save money with PAYT. If households use the number of bags indicated (or fewer), they will save money with PAYT.

Because the annual fee for regular stickers will cost $110 less, that $110 can be used to buy:

  • 73 30-gallon trash bags per year (or fewer) — OR
  • 137 15-gallon bags (or fewer) — OR
  • 220 8-gallon bags (or fewer)

I Buy a Senior Sticker Now; Will I Pay Less with PAYT?
People can evaluate, from the numbers below, whether or not a particular senior household will save money with PAYT. If households use the number of bags indicated (or fewer), they will save money with PAYT.

Because the annual fee for senior stickers will cost $45 less with PAYT, that $45 can be used to buy:

  • 30 30-gallon trash bags per year (or fewer) — OR
  • 56 15-gallon bags (or fewer) — OR
  • 90 8-gallon bags (or fewer)

Didn't We Vote on This Before? What's Changed?
A lot has changed since 2005, when Acton first voted on PAYT. At that time, we were just emerging from a contract with NESWC that required the town to pay a penalty if the Town didn't deliver a contracted minimum amount of trash each month. These “mandated minimums” were so high that we were accepting commercial trash in order to meet our minimum, and the Town didn't know much about the amount of purely residential trash we were collecting. Because of the minimums, the Town had no incentive to reduce trash or increase recycling. The Finance Committee, at the time, recommended against PAYT, saying it was too soon to know what we could do to reduce trash on our own. Since then, the Town has made every effort that was mentioned in 2005, including the following:

  • Making the recycling area more accessible
  • Redoing many of the TS signs and printed materials
  • Recycling a broader array of items, including rigid plastics, styrofoam™, electronic waste, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and even, for a while, golf balls.

These efforts did contribute to improvements in recycling — by a percent or two per year in the last few years — but not as much as some hoped it might. We also now have almost 10 years of data on our trash and recycling rates, and we aren't doing that well, as illustrated here:

This chart shows every Massachusetts community that reported numbers for households and trash in 2013. The red towns don't have PAYT programs, and the blue towns do. You can see how consistently PAYT towns are throwing away less trash than non-PAYT towns, and you can see that Acton is not one of the better non-PAYT towns: we throw out 1,858 pounds of trash per household annually. We are ranked #170 out of the 217 communities that reported.

You can see the same trend in our neighboring communities: PAYT towns do significantly better than non-PAYT towns. Here are the latest numbers for pounds of trash per household in Acton and neighboring towns in 2013, from least to most:

  • 1,165 Maynard PAYT (curbside)
  • 1,246 Sudbury PAYT (transfer station)
  • 1,336 Littleton PAYT (transfer station)
  • 1,490 Concord PAYT (curbside)
  • 1,605 Boxborough (transfer station - no PAYT)
  • 1,858 Acton (transfer station - no PAYT)
  • 2,174 Westford (curbside - no PAYT)
  • 2,193 Carlisle (transfer station - no PAYT)

(Note: Stow does not report information to Mass DEP)

Finally, we now have an additional 10 years of experience in Massachusetts to see that PAYT works like nothing else does: the table at the top of this article shows a 48% average reduction in trash in Massachusetts communities that have taken on PAYT programs between 2005 and 2012.

This year, with all this new and compelling data, the Acton Finance Committee voted to recommend the SMART PAYT article.

Don't We Recycle Already?
Most households recycle some items, but our trash has a lot of recyclables in it. We know that in three ways. First, this is true in every town. The state did an analysis of trash being delivered to the state's incinerators, and found these percentages of material that did not need to be thrown away in the trash (i.e., are recyclable), or that are illegal to put in residential trash:

Materials In Massachusetts Trash
25.8% Paper
20.6% Organic Materials
14.0% Plastics
13.9% Construction and Demolition Materials
5.5% Metals
3.3% Electronics
3.2% Household Hazardous Waste
2.2% Glass

(Source: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/recycle/priorities/wcssumm.pdf )
Second, given the significant weight of trash per household in Acton, and our lower-than-average recycling, it’s a safe bet that we are throwing away even more non-trash items than the average Massachusetts household.

Third, consider the amount of recycling Acton did at the TS in 2013 compared to other towns that reported numbers:

This is the same story we saw with the statewide trash numbers: Acton is not doing very well. While other towns were getting better at recycling in the 1980s and 1990s, Acton was locked into the NESWC contract. It’s time to catch up.

Seniors and PAYT: Would Senior Households Have a Harder Time with This System

There are two parts to this question, logistical and financial.

  • Will buying the new bags be difficult? The answer is no. The bags will be available at any local store that currently sells regular trash bags: convenience stores, drugstores, hardware stores, and grocery stores.
  • Will putting trash in the bags be difficult, or will the bags be hard to carry? One reason Acton opted to offer three bag sizes is to ensure that people can use what makes sense for their own households, habits, and capacities (e.g., so that people don’t have to manage large or heavy bags if that’s problematic). The 8-gallon bag is the size of a small kitchen garbage bag, and will be easy to carry. (The 15-gallon bag is the size used in standard kitchen trash bins.) For particularly heavy items, or items that might be collected in smaller bags (such as cat litter), households could, at the TS trash transfer building, put their smaller, heavy (non-Acton) bags into an 8-gallon (or larger) PAYT bag for disposal.

A related concern that has been raised is that cutting up boxes for recycling is difficult for some. Hearing this, Green Acton talked to the Transfer Station staff, who assured us that they are there to help anyone with physical difficulties in negotiating the Transfer Station. You may ask for assistance with cutting up cardboard, lifting bags, or whatever is needed. Transfer Station staff members are committed to making the Transfer Station accessible for users.


The current senior $55 sticker fee is quite low, given that the average cost of operating the TS is $170 per household. The Town keeps senior costs low at the Transfer Station for two good reasons: they usually generate less trash than other households, and the community values helping seniors remain in town.

  • Senior households are generally smaller and more frugal than other households, and so throw out less trash. In our current system, the only way to reflect that is to have lower annual fees. In a PAYT system, the same goal is achieved by use of special Acton bags whose purchase price pays for the cost of disposing of the trash inside them. Senior (and other) households that throw out less will pay less.
  • It's generally recognized that initiatives that reduce costs for seniors, to help them decide to stay in Acton, are good for both Acton's social fabric and the Town's financial well-being. (The latter is true because senior households generally don't have students in our schools, whose budgets represent the largest part of our Town's spending.) To support this goal in the proposed PAYT system, the annual sticker fee is substantially reduced from $55 to $10. The Selectmen and Town staff are discussing additional ways to reduce costs for households that need assistance, including a program of free bags and/or stickers available via the Town social worker, Council on Aging staff, the Veterans’ Service Officer, and the Acton Nursing Services staff. (For example, households that generate ample trash due to medical issues could secure coupons for extra bags.)

Even with the steep discount in the sticker price, and even with extra free bags for seniors and others with financial or medical difficulties, there still may be some households that would pay more in this program than in the current program — particularly, senior households that throw out a lot of trash every week. In a PAYT program, households can choose convenience over cost savings and not reduce their trash volume.

A PAYT trash program makes trash disposal more like other utilities/services, such as water or electricity. When your neighbor uses more electricity than you do, you don't have to pay for that: only your neighbor does. That's fair. PAYT brings that same basic fairness to trash.

What About the Bags?
Some have expressed concern about the strength of the bags. The state requires all PAYT bag vendors to provide bags that are stronger than those of the major commercial brands.

Some have expressed environmental concerns about the use of plastic bags at all. Plastic is certainly not ideal, but consider this:

  • The bag vendors provide recycled plastic bags as an option for town PAYT programs. Green Acton recommends that the Town take this option. The prices (fixed by state contract after an annual bidding process) are quite reasonable for recycled bags.
  • Most Acton households are already using (non-recycled) plastic bags to throw away their trash. The negative impact of a few households starting to use plastic bags is far outweighed by the positive impacts of reducing Acton’s trash by millions of pounds of trash each year (and of choosing recycled plastic for Acton’s PAYT bags).
  • For now, the bags are the simplest and least-expensive way to collect a standard amount of money, for a standard amount of trash, to cover the costs of disposing of that trash. In the future, when the weighing and charging technology might be available at a good price, we could charge for trash by weight and eliminate the need for special bags.

    Will the Recycling Area Be Overwhelmed with Greater Recycling?
    The recycling containers can be reconfigured quickly; for example, on Saturdays, staff can open two paper containers and two plastic containers to be available at once. Also, signage can be added to encourage those who are in a hurry (and can handle stairs) to use the far side of the recycling area, where there is parking available even on the most-crowded Saturday.

    How Would PAYT Impact Non–Transfer Station Users?
    Everyone benefits from cleaner air, less carbon pollution, and less toxic material being added to the environment, and everyone can appreciate having a fair pricing system. In addition, the state funding for a PAYT launch comes with a requirement to make sure all residents, not just Transfer Station users, have a recycling option. Some apartment and condo buildings in Acton don't currently offer recycling; that would change.

    What's the Timing on This Proposal?
    The SMART PAYT warrant article is Article 22, and is most likely to come up on April 7, the second night of Town Meeting. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee support passage of this Article, which is written as a non-binding recommendation because state law requires that the Selectmen, rather than Town Meeting, set fees. However, a majority of the Board of Selectmen, at their March 23 meeting, went on record as saying that they would feel bound to abide by the will of the majority of Town Meeting voters.

    The Selectmen set fees once per year at the end of the fiscal year. If a PAYT system is recommended, the BoS could adopt it right away, which would mean that it would go in to effect in the Fall of 2015, when new stickers are required. The BoS revisits pricing each year, and would be revisiting the question of a PAYT system each year as well, to make sure it is working well. In this way, any adoption of a PAYT system is a trial: if it isn't working, the Selectmen will switch to a different system.

    Please Support SMART PAYT. Why?

    • It's well tested in hundreds of communities — more than 140 communities in Massachusetts alone. It works and users are happy with it.
    • It offers cost control: for the first time, users can pay less by reducing their trash loads.
    • More robust recycling boosts energy independence and helps the Massachusetts economy by cutting the need to import petroleum and raw materials, and by creating jobs.
    • It's fair. PAYT treats trash like a utility: those who generate less trash pay less, and would no longer subsidize users that throw away more trash.
    • It's environmentally beneficial: Acton would reduce its annual “contribution” to the waste stream by millions of pounds annually.

    For more information, or to ask more questions, please visit www.ActonTrash.info.

    Subscribe to the Acton Forum and get our newsletters emailed to you -- FREE! Click on http://www.actonforum.com/subscribe-actonforum-newsletter


TS users like me lost - goodbye TS

As expected TS users lost the vote and the battle. Like I posted here before I already had plans to stop using the TS after Sep. Towards that end the basement is already cleared with the garages to follow. Thanks PAYT.

While getting this passed a bunch of claims were made. Amongst them that usage will not drop. If you feel as strongly as I do, do not renew your sticker after Sep. Consider using pickup service which for my family of 5 is as low as $26 a month for both trash and recycling once a week at my door. I do not have to drive to the TS and do not have to separate my recyclables. Nor do I have to buy special bags !

If people are interested I will compile and post a list of pickup providers with phone numbers. Two of my neighbors and current TS users will switch along with me.

We lost the battle. Let's win the war or at least send a message.


Several people have pointed out that requiring the use of small, thick plastic bags for trash to be burned or buried is an odd way to reduce pollution. Perhaps PAYT really means "Plastic Added to Your Trash".



I have lived in Acton for forty five years and I have always enjoyed going to the Transfer Station and meeting my fellow Acton citizens. Now we have a Town Manager and a special interest group that wants to change the way the TS is used.

The Town Manager decided to have this article part of the April Town as a non-binding resolution. They basically have already decided to implement PAYT. I guess they don’t believe in “We the People”.

The citizens of Acton are very conscious about our environment and are very responsible. If the TM wanted to improve recycling he has not shown it since he became TM. Have you ever seen any signs encouraging recycling? The answer is NO. Years ago I had a meeting with the TM regarding ways to make the TS more profitable, increase recycling while reducing the cost of a dump sticker. The point I was trying to make to Mr. Ladoux was that the TS could be a major asset and could become a major profit center for the town. After I made my suggestion to Mr. Laudoux his comment was “I am not here to make money”. I knew then that I was talking to a wall and left his office.
A survey was taken and if PAYT goes into effect one third of the current users might not participate in the TS. Again Mr. Ladoux math does NOT work. This will cause over 200 thousand dollars in lost revenue and eventually I believe will cause the TS to reduce it hours or eventually trigger its closing.
Acton has a major problem but it is not the Transfer Station. The Boston Globe showed that Acton real estate values have not kept up with its neighboring towns. Acton has the 15th highest tax rate in the state. Our property taxes have increased 30 straight years yet the value of our homes have only increased by 8 percent over the last 5 years. All of Acton neighboring town’s values has increased by 16 to 35 percent in the same time frame.
I am asking the Acton citizens to attend the Town Meeting and express your resentment with this proposal.

Ken Henderson

ken henderson

Bad Facts


Your enthusiasm for recycling is greatly appreciated. But I almost hate to break the bad news to you. The charts and information that are being presented just aren't factual. The mistakes go way beyond minor accounting errors, and fall into the category of blatant falsehoods.
Let's take the first item in the first chart as an example. The town of Granby is listed as having reduced trash by 78%. But if you actually look at the raw data, you see the errors. The information is actually from self reported surveys. For the years from 2011 to 2013, the reported total tonnage went from 3,389 to 1,053 to 765. This sounds like it's going down but in reality the accounting is changing. Items like yard waste were included in the larges number, but were removed in later numbers.
Granby had a recycling program, and if you add up the top categories for Mixed Paper, Comingled, Scrap Metal and E-Waste, you get the following:

2011: 232 + 112 + 99 + 0 = 443 tons
2012: 232 + 136 + 82 + 6 = 456
2013: 246 + 158 + 45 + 14 = 463

So despite switching from mandatory recycling to PAYT, Granby saw only a minor increases of about 1.5%. Most of this is attributable to an improving economy and improved awareness. A similar analysis for bulk trash shows a steady production of about 750 tons for both 2012 and 2013.

Real independent studies show that at best, PAYT reduces trash by less than 3%. The figure of 78% for Grandby is flat out wrong and is misleading. The other charts are equally flawed in both presentation and correctness. Being green shouldn't mean using false and misleading data to support a cause.

The mention that Action is suddenly exploring a swap center is also interesting. The town has been fighting the idea for over a decade. Yet a week before an election there is a sign with a phone number extolling the idea. The proposed opening date is scheduled for after the election. If you call the advertised number, a person on the other end mentions that there really isn't much support for a swap center. You have to wonder if this is a serious initiative, or just an election-week ploy.

Thanks - re-checking numbers

Hi Mark:

Thanks for going in to the original DEP spreadsheets & rechecking some of the numbers.

I do see anomalies in the Granby numbers - thanks for pointing them out. I'll be double-checking all the numbers before Town Meeting and updating tables and presentations. I prepared the numbers by simply taking the tons of trash and dividing by number of households: no deception intended. You are pointing out that I need to check what these numbers include, in case the counting method changes from year to year, and I agree. DEP staff have told us that PAYT results in trash drops from 25% to 50%, so a 78% drop needs more scrutiny.

I have never seen studies that show PAYT programs only dropping trash by 3%.

I agree with the raw numbers you report for recycling in Granby, but I do the math differently on the percentage.
An increase from 443 tons of recycling to 463 tons is a lot more than 1.5%.

Green Acton started working with the town on a swap center starting late in 2013. The building is there, and just needs a couple more volunteers and some warmer weather before it starts operation. The Drop & Swap days Green Acton ran starting in 2010 were very popular: I'm sure the shed at the transfer station will do well, and keep a lot of items out of the trash.

Jim Snyder-Grant is a member of Green Acton - more at http://greenacton.org. More about me at http://snyder-grant.org/jim. Or - just contact me at 978 266-9409 or jimsg@newview.org

Always check the numbers

You should only count a single year when PAYT was implemented, not two years. The recycling tonnage difference between years 2012 and 2013 is:
(463 - 456) / 456 = 0.01535 = 1.5%
Now if you look at the difference for the preceding year before PAYT was adopted, the recycling rate increased by 2.9%. You could just as easily make a case that in Granby, adoption of PAYT resulted in a 1.4% decline in the expected growth of recycling.
In reality, the changes in recycling tonnage are probably the results of a slowly improving economy, and the switch to PAYT likely didn't have much effect at all.
Keep in mind that the numbers supplied by the DEP aren't actual measurements. They are results from a self-reported survey. There are strong political and economic reasons to skew the numbers and provide a misleading picture.
If you want independent research into PAYT, look to the WPI study that was mentioned in The Beacon article. The title is "An Evaluation of Municipal Recycling Programs in Massachusetts." In this paper, PAYT doesn't fare very well, while other systems yield results that are nearly an order of magnitude better. If you're really green, that's something to think about.

What was left out...

What was left out was a disclaimer stating that the survey on PAYT satisfaction was done on behalf of a company called Wastezero and was authored by a Vice President and Director of Watezero. Wastezero is one of the few companies producing plastic bags for PAYT programs in Massachusetts.

I wish I had a reason to support this PAYT initiative. Over the years I have considered, supported and paid more for programs that are billed as "do good".

Good for the farmer, good for the environment, good for the small farms, good for local economy, good for the future and more - green generated energy, autos, solar energy, organic food, fair trade, locally produced, etc - I have paid more for many of these and will continue to do so.

Most of these are good though some are eventually co-opted by big business like General Foods/Kelloggs/Pepsi buying some of my favorite food producers. But I digress...

I would support this PAYT initiative even at the cost of paying a lot more if it did some good to the environment. However putting more plastic (recycled or not) in landfills/incinerators is the very opposite of
what needs to happen and I just cannot support it. Sorry !


Quick math: My wife and I, 74 & 76 years old currently pay $50.00 per year to use the transfer station. With your proposed plan at $10.00 per year my cost would increase by $111.00
Cost of sticker $10, bags per week 2 at 1.50. This equals

10 + ((2*52)*1.5)= $10. + $156. = $166.
Current cost $55.00
New cost $166.00.
Increase in annual cost to this senior = $111.

I have to assume this increase in cost will hold true for non-seniors. The dump, excuse me, the transfer station currently pays for itself. Why does it need more money? Or is this whole plan nothing more than 'THE GREENS' effort to force everyone to bend to their values? Recycling is important. The degree to which people recycle is a personal decision. There is no law in the Commonwealth -- yet -- mandating X% of recycling per family. Pass such a law, if you must, then enforce it.

PAYT is not Green

Don't confuse this PAYT proposal with Green. I am all for the environment and PAYT is worse. Many communities are getting away from plastic and Acton is proposing adding more plastic to the landfill or burn it in incinerators. It does not make a difference if it is recycled plastic or not - it's is still plastic !!!!

If we had to improve things from an environmental perspective curbside pickup would be best. It was admitted as such at a Acton Finance Committee meeting. The same person also stated in a blog post that he likes the dump and that people who like the dump would not vote for curbside. I assume they do not want to change their likes or behaviour even if it is better for the environment. Instead they want others to change and throw more plastic in the landfill !!!

About the bags

Most households currently use plastic bags for their trash. Thus, the big drops in trash seen in PAYT programs also come with a big drop in total plastic and total plastic bags. That more than makes up for the few households that would be switching from not using plastic bags to using PAYT bags. When the technology is cheap and convenient enough to simply weigh the trash and charge the right household, then the PAYT bags won't be needed any more, and we can phase out that plastic use as well. In the mean time, bags provide the simplest and cheapest way to have trash costs to households line up with the cost the town pays to dispose of trash, and to have those who throw away less pay less.

A town-wide curbside system is worth exploring, but its a different topic than PAYT. PAYT can work either at a transfer station or with curbside pickup, and it's the most effective way we know to reduce trash.

Jim Snyder-Grant is a member of Green Acton - more at http://greenacton.org. More about me at http://snyder-grant.org/jim. Or - just contact me at 978 266-9409 or jimsg@newview.org

Amounts of trash per household & what it costs.

Based on how much trash is thrown away now at the Acton transfer station, and the sorts of reductions typically seen in PAYT communities, the average two-person household in Acton will be throwing out a bit less than one 15 gallon bag per week in a PAYT system, which will cost less than $40 per year, for a total annual cost of $50 for seniors if they are two person households.

For non-senior households, whose annual sticker fees aren't as heavily subsidized, the math looks better: annual fees would be dropping from $210 to $100, giving them $110 dollars in'headroom' for buying bags before their annual costs would be going up. The annual cost of running the transfer station is currently about $170 per household.

The transfer station does not need more money, and in any case, by law, town fees can't be set to earn extra money for the general fund: they must be set so that predicted income and expense match. In a PAYT system, the overall income and expense both drop as trash amounts drop.

I don't know how you estimated two 30-gallon bags of trash per week. Perhaps there are extra recyclables in there that you don't need to throw away? Or perhaps you typically use smaller bags than the full-size 30 gallon bags? Trash amounts vary from households to household for a lot of reasons.

I agree that the amount you recycle and the amount you throw away is a personal decision. I just want individual households to be responsible for their personal decisions, so that if one households throws out less, they pay less. This is what is accomplished in a PAYT system.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts so that we could have this exchange. I hope it's helpful for other Forum readers as well. There's also more information over at ActonTrash.info

Jim Snyder-Grant is a member of Green Acton - more at http://greenacton.org. More about me at http://snyder-grant.org/jim. Or - just contact me at 978 266-9409 or jimsg@newview.org

Real numbers


I think we've already established that the numbers you're using aren't realistic, and the estimates for trash reduction are substantially inflated. The average person in America produces just under four pounds of trash per day. That average has held steady over the last 30 years. In Acton the situation is a bit worse, because many people in our town are on a septic system. This means that they are more likely to dispose of heavy food waste in the trash, rather than using a garbage disposal that leads to a sewer. The last thing you want in your septic system is excess food waste, which can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs.
When people think of producing less trash, they aren't thinking of keeping banana peels and carrot tops out of a landfill. It may be nice to compost more in your back yard, but if you already have problems with scavenging wildlife, frozen ground, and bad odors, you are probably going to continue throwing away food scraps that can't be eaten.

numbers updated

Hi Mark:
No, we don't agree that the numbers aren't realistic. I went back to the sources and looked for similar anomalies and made adjustments. The new chart is now in the original article, with a new average PAYT trash reduction of 45%. The DEP numbers can be hard to compare year over year because they sometime asked different questions, so some interpolations need to be made in some cases. You can argue that particular towns should be listed with lower or higher numbers, but the fact remains that in town after town there have been substantial trash reductions.
Some people will compost more, some won't, some can't. In any case, enough people choose to reduce their trash to save money,and PAYT works.

Jim Snyder-Grant is a member of Green Acton - more at http://greenacton.org. More about me at http://snyder-grant.org/jim. Or - just contact me at 978 266-9409 or jimsg@newview.org


You state that my wife and I will use fewer bags for our trash. If we cut our bags usage in half we will be spending ($1.50 * 52) + $10.00 = $88.00 = $38.00 increase in trash disposal. No cash savings. (Added cost of 50 gallon trash receptacle not included.)

You can make an assumption that our trash will reduce to less than one bag a week but my analysis of OUR TRASH does not support your assumption. As to how much trash we generate and how much we recycle you are again making assumptions. You don't know how we must live. You don't know how much we recycle (my analysis of our trash shows me we are recycling about 85% of that which can be recycled).

Assume away just don't include me particularly. In my case your assumptions are wrong.

You will pay more...

..but the amount you were originally paying was quite frankly heavily subsidised. I don't like PAYT either but $88 a year or anything less than $100 is a good deal though I wonder how Boxboro manages to give its seniors two free TS stickers a year while charging regular users just $150. Why is Acton so inefficient in everything ?