Pay-as-You-Throw and Popular Opinion: A Winning Combination

We’ve known for a long time that people like pay-as-you-throw. How could we not? We’ve been at this for a long time—more than twenty years—and we’ve worked with hundreds of cities and towns. And along the way we’ve had the opportunity to talk with lots of people, to learn about what drives them and what they’re looking for in their trash program.

So we knew that people like pay-as-you-throw, but until now that knowledge was more of a gut thing. (How do we know people like pay-as-you-throw? Because they told us.) We wanted to see if we could turn that anecdotal evidence into something more tangible—so we commissioned the public opinion research firm Public Policy Polling to do a survey of people in PAYT communities. PPP asked almost a thousand people in 11 PAYT towns and cities around the country for their thoughts on PAYT, and the results were illuminating.

In a nutshell, the survey found both broad and deep support for pay-as-you-throw, and it showed that people in PAYT programs overwhelmingly see it as fair, effective, and easy to take part in.

This may be the single most striking finding of the survey: Overall, 79% have either a very or somewhat favorable opinion of PAYT. That’s basically four out of five. An outright majority—52%—have a very favorable opinion.

That favorability is constant across income groups. Even in households in the lowest income bracket surveyed (those earning less than $30,000 per year), 80% said they see PAYT as very or somewhat favorable.


One of PAYT’s major selling points is its inherent fairness—the ability it gives people to pay for the waste they create rather than that of their neighbors. (After all, that’s how we already pay for other utilities like water, electricity, and gas.) More than two-thirds of people in the survey—a whopping 68%—said they see PAYT as a fair way to pay for solid waste disposal.

Again, people see PAYT as fair across income levels. Even in households earning less than $30,000, a clear majority (57%) said PAYT is fair.


Ease of Participation
Look, we know pay-as-you-throw is easy to take part in—we’ve designed our programs with that specifically in mind. So it was good to see that the folks PPP surveyed consistently said that PAYT fits well into their lives and isn’t a burden on them.

Almost three-quarters of people (74%) said participating in PAYT is not difficult. On another question, 67% said they consider the cost of pay-as-you-throw bags to be an affordable part of their household budget. (Even a majority of the lowest-earning households—the people earning less than $30,000—said the bags are affordable.)

In addition, the survey found that the concerns many people have about PAYT before it kicks off pretty much disappear once they start begin to participate. Two-thirds, or 67%, of people in the poll said taking part in PAYT is less difficult than they thought it would be before the program began.


We see evidence that pay-as-you-throw works every day, but we wondered if the people who live with the program see it too. It turns out that they do.

Asked if they think PAYT’s environmental impact on their community is positive, negative, or neutral, fully 62% said positive, with just 10% saying negative. On a related question, 50% of people said they see PAYT’s financial impact as positive, and another 33% see it as neutral; just 13% see it as negative.

And people clearly understand that PAYT reduces solid waste volume and increases recycling. Seventy-four percent said they think their community’s solid waste decreased by either a lot (44%) or a little (30%) since PAYT began. And 90% said they think PAYT led to an increase in recycling by either a lot (67%) or a little (23%).

Bottom-line: 89% of people said their pay-as-you-throw program is performing better than or as well as they expected.

Political Impact
We talk with a lot of politicians who say to us, Sounds great—but what would bringing in PAYT mean for my re-election? PPP - reelectionWe were curious too, so we asked folks if having PAYT makes them more or less likely to vote for the officials who implemented it. And if you’re a politician, the answer is a good one—these results show that elected leaders really don’t face negative repercussions for bringing in PAYT, and if anything, are actually helped by it. Here’s why: 53% said PAYT doesn’t make a difference in their vote, and almost a quarter—24%—said it actually makes them more likely to vote for the people who brought in PAYT.

We set out to learn more about what people who live with pay-as-you-throw really feel about it, and we were delighted to find out that they really do look at it like we thought they did: they like it; they see it as fair, effective, and easy to take part in; and they reward the municipal leaders who bring it in to their towns and cities.

To read more about the survey in MSW Management magazine, click here: “The People Speak: Pay-as-You-Throw and Resident Satisfaction

To read Public Policy Polling’s memo on the survey, click here: “Pay-as-You-Throw Popular Among Towns and Cities Across the U.S.

One Response to “Pay-as-You-Throw and Popular Opinion: A Winning Combination”

  1. This just makes sense! Most people don’t give much thought to their waste until they have to attach a dollar value to it. I appreciate that my cafe gives me a discount for bringing my own cup, but I would prefer to see people who take a disposable one pay an extra dime. It would work to curb the disposable cup problem.


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