The Drawbacks of Cash-Based Convenience Centers

You might say that convenience centers or transfer stations where residents pay cash for each bag of garbage they throw away are the original pay-as-you-throw program. After all, they’re unit-based—you literally pay as you throw. And they’re equitable—people who create less garbage pay less to dispose of it, and people who create more pay more. And because there is a cost associated with each bag, these programs do give residents incentives to reduce and divert waste.

But for all its benefits, is the “original” pay-as-you-throw still right for today? Let’s consider the evidence. For one thing, cash programs are inefficient. All those coins and bills need to be collected, counted, and deposited. And that’s not even factoring in the time it takes for the attendant to make change.


Image courtesy of Flickr via Creative Commons license

Safety is another concern. Those attendants are often alone, they’re often out in the country or an isolated part of town, and they always have at least a little—and sometimes a lot of—cash on hand. It’s a shame, but they can be targets for thieves.

And speaking of thieves: While the overwhelming majority of convenience center and transfer station attendants are honest and upstanding, there have been cases of some bad apples skimming from the kitty. Just this spring, two employees of the Guilford-Madison Transfer Station in Connecticut were accused of stealing more than $4,000 from the till.

For communities that value the convenience center/transfer station model, there is a good alternative. Converting from cash to a bag-based pay-as-you-throw model—with residents paying up-front for their bags in stores rather than at the point of disposal—can be the perfect way to adjust the existing system to make it more efficient and effective. Going to bags rather than cash brings several meaningful benefits:

  • Speeds up operations, taking away the need for attendants to interact with each and every customer
  • Streamlines accounting, removing the complicated step of collecting all the attendants’ cash and reconciling it with the amount of disposed waste
  • Enhances the safety of attendants, who will no longer hold large amounts of cash
  • Makes it impossible for attendants to divert money from the collection stream

Think of bags as the perfect update to the original pay-as-you-throw.

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