Pay-As-You-Throw 101

What Is Pay-As-You-Throw?

A pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program, also known as unit-based or variable-rate pricing program, empowers people to take charge of their trash bill.

Today, most cities and towns charge a flat fee for trash service or include it within the property tax.  But with PAYT, people pay for trash collection based on how much they throw away, like any other utility.

Communities with PAYT programs:

By cutting the amount of trash sent to the landfill or incinerator, PAYT programs generate financial savings that can be used for more productive uses, such as schools, parks, roads, public safety, or a host of other needs a community may identify.

A recent study by AMERIPEN (The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment) finds PAYT to be extremely effective and recommends it as one of the three best approaches to reduce solid waste and increase recycling.

Not All PAYT Programs Are Created Equal

Some PAYT programs work better than others.  Here is an overview of the different types:

PAYT Type How It Works ProsCons
CashResidents pay a set fee in cash for each bag they dispose of at a drop-off location.
  • Effective
  • Fair

  • Does not work with curbside collection
  • Inefficient and risky
Variable Rate CartsResidents choose from different sizes of carts, paying more for the larger carts and less for the smaller ones.
  • Fairer to residents than a flat fee
  • Doesn't change behavior; residents select cart that matches current habits
  • Expensive for cities to buy and maintain multiple cart sizes
  • Less effective than other methods
  • Complex
OverflowResidents pay a flat fee that covers everything they can fit into a certain size cart, and then pay extra (usually by the bag) to dispose of anything that does not fit into that cart.
  • Can provide some waste reduction if the cart is small
  • Usually not very effective at reducing waste
TagsResidents pay by the bag by affixing a pre-paid tag or sticker to each bag of trash.
  • Fairer than a flat fee
  • Does achieve some waste reduction
  • Inexpensive to implement
  • Prone to cheating
  • Difficult to enforce
BagsResidents dispose of their waste in specialized bags approved by the municipality and clearly marked with the municipal seal or other unique instructions or information.
  • Fairer than a flat fee
  • Provides significant waste reduction
  • Enhances recycling
  • Easy to enforce
  • Convenient for residents
  • Popular with residents
  • Inexpensive to implement
  • Can be used with or without carts
  • None, as long as the bags are priced correctly and there is clear and open communication with residents

Bags Are Usually the Best PAYT Option

Bag-based programs are the most effective and most liked by residents.  They can be used in nearly any situation and do not require changes to a community’s collection method.

For example, they work in communities that have

Public Policy Polling (PPP) surveyed nearly 1,000 residents in towns with bag-based PAYT programs.

This is what they learned:

Our flagship PAYT program is bag-based, full-service, and achieves an average waste reduction of 44%—and often doubles recycling rates.