Implementation of PAYT in DC and NYC:

Best Practices and Next Steps

Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) is an appealing concept for many municipalities as the volume of waste increases and disposal becomes more difficult and costly. As more and more landfills are closing, there is an increasing amount of waste that must be shipped out of the state in which it was produced. Therefore, cities must find a means to deal with their refuse and recycling in a cost-effective and efficient manner. PAYT has become a tried and true method for addressing this issue. Once implemented, PAYT is well received, but implementation is not always easy. However, through careful planning, difficulties in PAYT implementation can often be minimized or averted altogether.

Perhaps the most frequent objection to Pay-As-You-Throw is that it is simply a new tax levied on residents. Allaying this misconception early and effectively is essential to the successful implementation of PAYT in municipalities. Cities and communities charge for traditional waste services in a variety of different ways that are typically invisible to residents, much like the specific line items on a property tax bill. PAYT by design makes the cost of waste immediately evident. When dealing with this shift, it is essential to inform and, more importantly, demonstrate to residents that they are not simply paying an additional tax for their trash service. Education and community involvement is the primary method to overcome this hurdle. Regular planning, informational, and educational sessions are required to facilitate the implementation of PAYT.

Communicating PAYT

It is important to clearly communicate with residents about how PAYT revenue will be used by the city and how the existing fee structure will be modified after its implementation. Residents are much more hesitant to adopt PAYT if they do not see a direct benefit, either monetarily or in the service received, to themselves or to their community. Thus, the municipality should involve citizens in the process and allow them to make suggestions wherever possible as to how any excess revenue from the program should be allocated. It should be emphasized to residents that the goal of PAYT is to create a more fair and equitable solution for all citizens that will be able to better address the many disparate materials which enter the waste stream today. The Citizens Budget Commission emphasizes this point in their report on PAYT, saying, “The purpose of a new garbage fee [PAYT] is not to generate new revenue. Therefore, an offsetting rebate or tax cut would be needed. Another approach is to allocate a certain number of official garbage bags or stickers to affix to bags and create an exchange for the buying and selling of bags” (Citizens Budget Commission, 2015). PAYT serves households on an individual basis and rejects the notion that a “one-size-fits-all” mentality is appropriate for waste services. By treating each resident and household as unique, PAYT allows citizens to directly control the cost of their waste while also encouraging a heightened awareness of the environmental and economic costs of trash, as well as the benefits of recycling and composting.

Building Partnerships

Building partnerships with diverse stakeholders and the community at large is key to the successful implementation of PAYT. Lisa Skumatz, principal of SERA Inc., a consulting firm specializing in PAYT programs, suggests that the most effective method for a municipality to foster support for PAYT is by enlisting a well-connected “champion” for PAYT (Skumatz, 2002). That is, an individual who can credibly speak to potential partners and constituents about the benefits and eventual necessity of overhauling current models of waste management with variable rate systems like PAYT. It is essential to also consider partnerships with the various private hauling companies in a municipality. Since these companies will essentially be responsible for whether or not PAYT is successful, it is key that the haulers feel they have a voice in the process of developing a customized PAYT system that will work with the existing infrastructure.Collecting and Analyzing the Plan

Once core partnerships have been established and a proposal for PAYT has been developed and piloted, constant and detailed data is needed to make informed decisions about the direction of the program and changes needed. The Cornell Waste Management Institute recommends that cities piloting a PAYT service should collect as much detailed information as possible about the volume, composition, and destination of waste before, during, and after a PAYT pilot (2000). By doing this consistently and methodically, the city is able to track changes in resident habits after PAYT to see if desired habits such as a moderate decrease in the volume of trash and subsequent increase in recycling or adherence to recycling guidelines have been instilled by the program. If there is little change after the implementation of PAYT, a careful examination of the program is needed to determine whether it has been effectively communicated to residents, if all stakeholders feel they have had a voice in the process, and if residents understand their potential to save under a PAYT system. If any one of these elements is lacking, then the full benefit of PAYT will be difficult to realize.

Expansion and Success

After the successful completion of the early stages of the pilot, expansion can be considered. In general, the transition from pilot to full implementation should be handled as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. The key to this transition is early planning and preparation, as well as collaboration between municipalities adopting PAYT and those that have already implemented it. The municipality will need to ensure that it has both the infrastructure capacity as well as the administrative back-end to support the large-scale roll-out of PAYT. Many communities find it easier to slowly grow the program outwards from the original pilot location, as this way data and results can be examined on a rolling basis and minor adjustments can be made to the program without causing city-wide disruptions.

Additional Resources:

Bob Moylan, “Implementation of PAYT in Worcester, MA”

Jan Canterbury, “Climate & Waste" Connection & Pay As You Throw (PAYT)”

Kristen Brown, “Reaching Zero Waste [with PAYT]: A Capital Example”

Geoff Rathbone, “'Pay as You Throw': Toronto's Waste Diversion Approach”

Coalition for Resource Recovery, “Pay-As-You-Throw: The Key to Meeting ONENYC Goals


Cornell Waste Management Institute. "Pay As You Throw For Large Municipalities." (2000): n. pag. Cornell University. Web.

Gamerman, Tammy. "A Better Way to Pay for Solid Waste Management." (2015): n. pag. CBCNY. Web.

Skumatz, Lisa. “Variable-Rate or “Pay-As-You-Throw” Waste Management.” (2002): n. pag. Reason Foundation. Web.