What’s Your Trash Costing You?
Up until last week, no one in my suburban New England town of 15,000 or so ever really gave much thought to what went into their trash barrel each week. Last week, all that changed with the introduction of a ”Pay As You Throw” (PAYT) program.
For those not familiar with PAYT, it’s a growing trend in municipal waste management whereby residents must purchase (for a small fee) town/city-branded trash bags and place all their waste in there. If you don’t have your trash in a branded bag it doesn’t get picked up. Typically, PAYT programs go hand-in-hand with a robust recycling program playing wing-man.
Why Implement a PAYT Program?
The reasons are many. For our community, we have the only municipal landfill in the state of Rhode Island (all other communities have their waste hauled to a massive central landfill in the north part of the state). Our landfill is near capacity and our town coffers nowhere near the level they need to be to cover the cost of capping the landfill.
So, after years of (heated, New-England-Yankee-style) debate, we’ve implemented PAYT to both extend the life of our landfill (through more aggressive recycling) and raise the capital necessary to eventually cap it. Each town-branded bag costs us $1.00 and the town expects to raise around $8,500 per week in bag sales.
Reactions run the gamut: From those who decry it as a tax wolf in sheep’s clothing (another “tax” on top of the taxes we already pay for basic waste removal) to those who praise it as a behavior change lever in which to pull to curb our wasteful ways. While I am not condoning the budgetary planning (or lack thereof) that created the fiscal imperative for PAYT, I do consider myself in the latter camp of support.
Shining a Spotlight on Our Wasteful Ways
No matter what your reaction, what is for sure is that everyone in our town is (or should be!) taking a critical look at what they are consuming and tossing out each week. A buck a bag can add up quickly. So far, we have had two bags per week, with one of those being full of disposable diapers for our youngest. (And yes, right there is full transparency for you; disposable diapers are a literal and figurative stain on my eco-being-ness.)
According to the Clean Air Council, the average American tosses 4.5 pounds of waste per day with only about a third of that being recycled or composted. I guess I am overly optimistic that PAYT will open many an eye across my town, causing people to pause and think about how to generate less waste. To think about what it means to consume — the natural resources, the lifestyles, the culture — and what is really at stake in both the short- and long-term. Heck, I’m even hopeful that many will take concrete steps to generate less waste altogether.
Eight Ways to Decrease the 4.5
In my latest bi-weekly column in my local paper, I offered up eight ways to consume less and generate less waste:
- Learn the Facts . Municipalities across the country have been implementing PAYT programs with success. The U.S. EPA has a great website with all the ins and outs. Want some jaw-dropping statistics about America’s wasteful ways? Check out the Waste Facts at the Clean Air Council’s website.
- Buy Less. The less you have, the less you have to figure out how to throw away. Take the opportunity to start doing more with less, differentiating between ‘need’ and ‘want’, and reducing all that clutter in your life. Need some motivation? Watch any of the films at the Story of Stuff.
- Use Re-usable Stuff . Get your self a re-usable coffee mug and water bottle (and use them). Invest in a good set of food storage containers so you’re not using plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Substitute paper napkins with cloth ones. Replace paper towels with cloth baby diapers. If you get creative, there’s no stopping what you can repurpose and re-use.
- Get on the Freecycle Bandwagon. For all that stuff that is still in good shape and could use a second life with someone else there is freecycling. We are signed up with our local Yahoo! Freecycle Group and a passing stuff on all the time. With thousands of area people using it, you’re bound to find someone who wants your stuff. Find your local group at the Freecycle website.
- Pre-Cycle. When you shop, look for minimal packaging and then any packaging that can be recycled. And remember that buying in bulk can also cut down on the amount of packaging you consume.
- Start a Compost Pile . Around twenty-five percent of household waste is organic material (e.g., vegetable and non-meat food scraps, lawn and garden clippings) and can be composted. The whole brown-and-green-layering thing couldn’t be easier and the end result (compost) is the best thing you could ever put in your garden. We’ve been maintaining a two-pile system for years now. Check out this great composting resource from the University of Rhode Island to learn more.
- Seize the Teachable Moment with Your Kids. If you haven’t already given your kids the Stuff 101 and Recycling 101 classes, now is the time. Our experience is that the sooner you show kids how to consume less, separate recyclables from trash, and tell them why we do it, the sooner they will be helping you without your asking. Make a game out it. Fun stuff rocks.
- Get to Know Your Neighbors. Not so long ago, we actually talked with our neighbors. That led to all sorts of great things: From borrowing a cup of sugar to lending a hand with the kids to keeping an eye on each other’s house when you weren’t around. Neighbors use to let each other borrow things big and small. History could repeat itself here. Remember the magic equation: Borrow More = Buy Less = Throw Less Out.
So what’s your trash costing you? What are some steps you’re taking to consume less and generate less waste?
Thanks for stopping by. While you’re here you might also enjoy these posts:
- Consumption Junction: 5 Steps Towards Reclaiming the Lost Art of Moderation
- 16 Ways to Practice Mindful Consumption in a Hyper-Consumer World
- You vs. Stuff: 5 Strategies for Winning Every Time
[image: Matthew Sanderson, Tiverton Patch]