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Aug 252010

By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

When it comes to recycling, most folks talk a good game, but execution often can be another matter.

Landfill trash (Photo: D'Arcy Norman)

Yes, we try to separate the proper plastics, cans and paper from the rest of the garbage, but sometimes it can be a bother. Besides, if we all pay the same flat fee for trash pickup, why get too stressed out over what goes where?

In this arrangement, the ardent recycler gets peace of mind but little else. If you are dutifully recycling as much as possible, and your neighbor isn’t, you obviously aren’t getting the same share of trash collection bang for your tax buck.

That inequity – not to mention overflowing landfills – is causing some communities to give their not-so-green members a not-so-gentle nudge in the right direction. The solution is “trash metering,” requiring residents to pay by the bag for curbside collection.

In Sanford, Maine, the new Pay As You Throw (P.A.Y.T.) program debuted in July. Residents now are required to place trash in specially-marked bags ($1.25 for a 15-gallon bag, $2 for a 33-gallon bag) available at a variety of local stores and businesses.

The switch produced impressive results. In the first month, the community experienced a 50 percent decrease in garbage tonnage while tripling the amount of recycling. In Maine alone, more than 150 municipalities have moved to a trash metering system, and the idea is catching on all across the country.

WasteZero works with about 300 cities in transforming their systems. According to the company, these towns reduce their landfill waste about 43% while together collectively net about $65 million either in avoided disposal fees or revenues from recycled materials.

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