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'Pay As You Throw': New Pricing For Garbage Could Be Coming To More Cities And Towns

Composting food scraps is one way to reduce food waste, but preventing excess food in the first place is better, says the EPA.
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Composting food scraps is one way to reduce food waste, but preventing excess food in the first place is better, says the EPA.

Cities and towns across Connecticut are applying for millions of dollars in state aid to help them reduce the amount of trash residents put out on the curb. The push for funding comes as price pressures for waste disposal continue to mount, spurred by the imminent closure of a major trash plant in Hartford next year.

In response to what state and local leaders are calling a “waste crisis,” Gov. Ned Lamont and the legislature recently authorized $5 million in grant funding to help selected cities and towns set up “pay as you throw” and food scrap collection programs.

“Pay as you throw” (also called “unit-based pricing”) would make trash costs more like utility bills.

Instead of spreading out disposal costs via local taxes, residents pay based on the amount of garbage they throw away. Proponents of unit-based pricing say the system is more equitable. Smaller households would no longer subsidize bigger users who generate a lot more trash and recycling.

Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said the economics of waste disposal have become even more relevant in Connecticut because of the scheduled closure of the MIRA trash-to-energy plant in Hartford next year.

When that plant closes, hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage will likely be transported to out-of-state landfills, which will be bad for the environment and likely more costly for towns.

“I think that’s the reason that we’ve seen so many municipalities reaching out to us at DEEP. Talking to their legislators, eager to try out some of these new programs that will deliver better value both economically and environmentally for their citizens,” Dykes said.

Joe DeRisi, coordinator of solid waste and recycling in Hamden, said his town set up a centralized drop-off bin for food waste prior to the state announcing its new grant program.

“We sort of knew that this was coming along and that we would have to go to unit-based pricing,” DeRisi said. “The one thing that we started ahead of time is to have a drop-off site at our transfer station for food waste.”

Those food scraps then go to an anaerobic digester in Southington. DeRisi said the move was more of a proof of concept, versus a wholesale shift in how Hamden residents handle garbage.

“We didn’t necessarily expect every resident to run over to the transfer station with their food waste. But it’s a good way to get the word out that food waste collection is going to be the next step in our trash collection,” DeRisi said. “The tipping fee is half of what it would be if we threw it out. So there’s a little bit of cost savings right there.”

DeRisi said Hamden is now seeking to pilot a program for curbside organic collection, using the $5 million in state grants.

The DEEP said towns need to express interest in those grants by late October.

Dykes, with the DEEP, said the closure of Hartford’s MIRA facility doesn’t mean waste will be piling up on the curb, but it does mean towns need to take action to contain costs.

“The trash will find a place to go, but the question is: ‘At what price? At what cost?’” Dykes said. “The price pressure is already there … adding up to difficult choices for local officials to figure out how they’re going to pay for these increasing costs.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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