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Worcester’s Pay-As-You-Throw Trash Removal Saves City $10-20M

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Worcester’s Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) trash removal system has saved the city an estimated $10 to $20 million dollars in the past 20 years, according to a recent case study published by WasteZero, the company that has produced and distributed the yellow bags for trash collection since January 2006.

The case study, entitled “A Long Running Success in a Large City,” highlights several statistics that show the success of Worcester’s PAYT system, which not only has decreased the amount of trash being thrown away, but also has increased the recycling rate to 43-percent, which among the best rates in Massachusetts and 13-percent over the state average.

“Worcester is currently the largest city that we partner with, although we are now in discussions with other similar sized and larger cities,” said Joshua Kolling-Perin, the Director of Public Engagement at WasteZero. “So far, the feedback from the program has been very good and there have been large financial savings for the city. Worcester is a great example that the PAYT program can work in a large city.”

Case Study Results

Statistical evidence from the case study shows the Worcester’s solid waste volume has decreased over time and that their recycling has increased. 

Since the implementation of the PAYT system in November of 1993 when a municipal budget crisis forced the Department of Public Works to find a way to fundraise for the department, Worcester’s solid waste volume has been cut in half. Over 400,000 tons of trash has been diverted from trash facilities and 200,000 tons of additional recycling has occurred.

“When I used to drive down the Worcester streets in the days of green and black bags being left at the curbside it was not uncommon at all to see 4, 5, or 6 bags in front of a single family home,” said former Worcester Department of Public Works Commissioner Robert Moylan at a Board meeting in Manchester, NH on February 19, 2014. Moylan was there to speak about the PAYT program as a future model for Manchester to implement (see full video below). “After the program went into effect, you would see one bag. Statistically, at least in Worcester, the average use is 1.2 large bags per week."

All of the diverted trash and additional recycling has created somewhere between $10 and $20 million in savings over the past 20 years, money that the Department of Public Works pumps back into their own department. 

The money is primarily used for funding of programs like curbside recycling pickup and bulky waste pickup which makes it so that customers no longer have to bring their recycling and bulky waste directly to a recycling or trash center. 

Kolling-Perin admits that the exact number is hard to quantify because it is a product of estimations. While his company initially went with a figure of over $10 million, Moylan had chimed in to say that he thought it was closer to $20 million. 

“Calculating the money saved is necessarily an estimate, combining inputs and assumptions such as the different landfill tipping fees over time, how the current amount of municipal solid waste compares with what it would be without pay-as-you-throw, and factoring in changes in population,” said Kolling-Perin. “So our analytics team initially came up with the $10M number, but when Bob saw it, his response was that it’s more likely closer to $20M. We then back-formulated the numbers using his figure, and we’re now comfortable using the figure going forward.”

Reaction to the PAYT Program

Although the Department of Public Works was initially concerned with backlash for the implementation of PAYT system because customers would be forced to purchase specialized yellow bags to put their trash in, Worcester saw immediate success with the PAYT system. 

Within the first week, the recycling rate was up from 2-percent to 38-percent and within a year, solid waste volume had dropped 47-percent. Worcester residents now throw out a meager 396 lbs of trash per capital every year compared to the national average of 900 lbs per capita every year.

“I can tell you that there was massive opposition at the beginning, yet, Worcester is touted as one of the most successful cities to do the PAYT program,” said Worcester City Councilor Kathleen Toomey. “While no one likes paying for their trash bags, it has truly made an enormous difference in the amount of recycling over the past two plus decades. People are more cognizant about what goes into their trash bags and make an effort to increase their recycling.”

Statistically speaking, the PAYT program in Worcester has been very helpful to increase recycling and reduce waste. Even with seeing the statistical evidence, some are still held back in wanting to participate in the program. 

“There are property owners who prefer to rent dumpsters rather than buy the trash bags,” said Toomey. “However, the bags are still a good value and if you recycle properly, a family of five should not need to use more than two small bags or one large. For the new and uninitiated it takes a while, but you learn quickly. I do think that we need to refocus our education efforts to address new renters and their landlords.”

A large 30 gallon trash bag currently costs $1.50 and a small 15 gallon bag runs $.75. Refusing to pay for bags and opting for illegal dumping may always be a concern, but those who oppose the payments should look to the long term benefits before complaining of costs. 

“I occasionally hear complaints about having to pay for bags,” said Worcester City Councilor Sarai Rivera. “But I believe that this program helps in two ways. Besides the obvious cost savings that both residents and the city see, it helps us be more conscious of our trash disposal habits as well as our recycling habits.”

Recycling Initiatives

The PAYT program may have done its part to increase recycling in Worcester, but other organizations and initiatives are making sure that Worcester’s recycling rate continues to rise.

WasteZero, who has already helped by partnering up with Worcester for the PAYT program, is one company working with the city to offer new initiatives in recycling for Worcester residents. The company is currently working on a program that would replace recyclable bins with bags similar to the ones currently being used in the PAYT program.

“We are currently working on a pilot program with the city they there are rolling out neighborhood to neighborhood to test recycling bags in the place of bins,” said Kolling-Perin. “As a hilly city, Worcester can get pretty windy which can create problems for recyclables sitting in the bins. On a windy day, recyclables can get blown away which creates a challenge. After all, recyclables are a commodity.”

This initiative joins the previously announced Zero Sort recycling program, which has been in effect since July of 2008. A partnership between the City of Worcester and Casella Waste Systems has allowed for recycling in Worcester to be easier than ever. 

“Zero Sort is the next generation of recycling; it doesn’t require you to sort out your recyclables,” said Joseph Fusco, Vice President of Casella Waste Systems. “The technology has become available where people no longer need a bunch of bins for each kind of recyclable. It has made recycling really convenient.”

The Zero Sort system uses a variety of screens, conveyor belts, and magnets to sort recyclables into different materials, eliminating the need for people to sort them by hand. This technology is something that Fusco sees as creating a recycling friendly environment in Worcester and the other cities and towns that it is currently implemented in throughout the United States. 

“The Zero Sort system is much better than the old way of recycling,” said Fusco. “The easier you make it to recycle, the more people will be willing to participate. Not only will they participate, but each person who does participate will recycle more. When you make it as easy as throwing something away, why would someone not want to recycle?”

Bob Moylan speaks to the Manchester Board of Aldermen on February 19, 2014 about Worcester's PAYT program.


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