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With Pay-as-You-Throw, Good Policy Is Good Politics

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: pay-as-you-throw isn’t just good policy; it’s also good politics.

That’s been true for a while, and the news yesterday out of Waterville, Maine, is just more evidence for it. In a city-wide referendum, Waterville residents voted by an overwhelming two-to-one margin to continue PAYT.

Waterville_Downtown

It’s not hard to see why. Pay-as-you-throw in Waterville has been a tremendous success, with a whopping 54% less trash than the year before. The city is using part of the savings from the program to fund curbside recycling, and residents there knew that if they lost PAYT, they’d also lose the convenience of curbside recycling. What’s more, pay-as-you-throw is on track to have a $430,000 financial impact on Waterville this year, and people knew that without the program, they’d have to make up that amount with higher taxes.

When the votes were tallied, the voters’ desire to keep pay-as-you-throw was perfectly clear. More than 2,000 people came to the polls, and 1,338 of them told the city they wanted to keep the program.

Waterville is no outlier. Again and again, without fail, people vote in favor of pay-as-you-throw when they’re given the chance to. Last month, voters in Woolwich, Maine, approved a new pay-as-you-throw program in their town meeting. The month before that, the town meeting in Acton, Mass., voted by a two-to-one margin to adopt PAYT. And the month before that, Hopkinton, N.H., voters beat back an anti-PAYT resolution in town meeting by another two-to-one margin. Four months in a row, four pro-PAYT popular votes… that’s a clear pattern.

What we can learn from Waterville, Woolwich, Acton, and Hopkinton–not to mention Tilton, N.H.; Sanford, Maine; Plymouth, Mass.; and numerous other communities where the people have voted for PAYT before this year–is that when a policy choice is good for households, good for municipal governments, and good for the environment, it’s good politics too.

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