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Variable Solid Waste Fees

Tony Dziepak
March 2003 In my residence, the Arlington County Resident's Guide to Solid Waste Services and Waste Reduction begins, "We can all work together to reduce costs..." but wait a minute, I am charged the same fixed, quarterly fee no matter how much I throw out. What's my incentive to reduce, reuse, and recycle?

Too often, local planners are relying on appeals to citizen's altruistic senses rather than appropriate price incentives. I believe that residents should be encouraged to reduce/recycle by a discount in refuse fees. Likewise, high-wasters should pay extra on their refuse bill.

The proposal, then, is to introduce a simple, workable variable fee structure for refuse and recycling service. The basic premise is the more waste you produce, the higher your bill. On the other hand, the less you waste, the lower your bill.

Complicated pilot programs have been conducted in the Town of Blacksburg, and other municipalities, with limited success. There are two methods: volume-based programs and weight-based programs.

The town of Blacksburg tried a volume-based program based upon individual large kitchen trash bags. The household had to place stickers on their trash bags. Each household was given an allotment of two stickers per week. Additional unstickered bags would cost extra.

Problems with this method: sticker allotment was fixed by residence, and did not take into account family size. Also, some families preferred to use other containers or carts. The plastic bags could not be put out the night before, or raccoons would scatter the trash.

The weight-based method requires an investment in specialized equipment. The truck needs to accurately weigh and dump each container. This is not compatible with Arlington County's current customary methods of collecting trash. Also, rainwater can affect the weight of the trash.

My solution is a volume method based on the current 64- and 96-gallon containers. No stickers are required. The trash crew would simply record the number and size of containers on a handheld device. Alternatively, bar codes could be applied to the containers for scanning. No stickers, no weighing required.

Here is the proposed fee structure:

Fixed quarterly fees:
Minimum (includes one 64-gallon art): $40.
96-gallon cart instead:  $45.
Additional 64-gallon carts: $10 per quarter.
Additional 96-gallon carts: $15 per quarter.
(3 96-gallon carts maximum per residence).

Discount for not using all of your carts:
$0.90 per week for each 96-gallon cart not used
$0.60 per week for each 64-gallon cart not used.

Premium for additional refuse not fitting in cart:
$0.50 for each plastic bag
$1.00 for each noncounty property can
$0.50 for each overfilled cart (lid not closed)
$0.25 for each bundled, noncontainered item
   (rugs, glass, bundled tree limbs, small items, etc.).

Special collections:
$5.00 for each unbundled brush collection, unlimited volume
  (4 free collections in April).
Appliance and heavy metal collection: $20 first item, $10 add'l item.
Christmas tree collection and fall leaf collection remain free.
Comments: We want to introduce a variable fee structure that will reflect the cost of handling an disposing of the trash. More trash means more costs, so we charge residents more to encourage them to lower their trash output.

The price incentive would be just like other metered utility, such as water, gas, and electricity. Weekly trash volume itemized on customer's bill, and residents will be encouraged to reduce waste. Consumers will receive a small price incentive to keep yard waste out of the solid waste, to buy less packaging, and to recycle. However, the price incentives are not severe enough for residents to consider illegal methods, such as illegal dumping, or using the trash carts of neighboring residents or businesses.

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