Chip Chesley and his colleagues wondered if Concord residents had started taking their trash across city lines. Within one week, they saw municipal solid waste volume plunge by 40 percent. Chesley, general services director for the city, thought, “Holy cow.” He called around to nearby transfer stations, but no one was reporting an influx of Concord residents. Ultimately, the 40 percent reduction stayed consistent.

It was 2009, and Concord had just implemented a “pay as you throw” system, charging people for the amount of waste they were sending to the landfill based on the number of city-issued trash bags they used. The program was meant to offset increasing costs of garbage collection and disposal, while prompting people to think more about the waste their household was generating.

If they threw it away, they had to pay for it. It was an incentive to shop smarter, recycle, compost, or find creative means of reuse. “The average person at the grocery store may not understand that solid waste disposal capacity is a dwindling resource and we need to manage it effectively,” Chesley said. “And one way is to charge for disposal services in some fashion and to leverage an economic tool.”

Thirty-nine New Hampshire municipalities are currently participating in some sort of “pay as you throw” system (PAYT), according to the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, and many have reported a decrease in their total disposal while simultaneously seeing recycling rates rise. Instead of a flat waste fee on tax bills, in these programs, people are responsible for the waste they create.

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Author: Hadley Barndollar, New Hampshire Bulletin
Image: Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin