The Citizens Budget Commission wants New York to rethink how it pays for trash. And if they get their wish, you might want to rethink tossing that recyclable yogurt cup into the trash, because you’ll be the one footing the bill.
The CBC — a good-government group that lobbies New York City and the state to reduce wasteful spending — wants residents to pay more attention to what they throw away, and has just released a report suggesting that the city begin charging a variable fee for trash removal — one that would require those who waste the most to pay more. Currently, garbage disposal in New York is paid for by general tax revenues.
“New York City diverts less than half the material we could be diverting into recycling or composting,” says Tammy Gamerman, senior research associate at the CBC. And the resulting trash often goes on a pricey road trip to an out-of-state landfill, she adds: “Right now, most of our garbage goes to Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania.”
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But other cities, like Seattle and San Francisco, divert between 50 and 60 percent of their trash into recycling or composting. Gamerman thinks that’s because both cities charge user fees for local garbage disposal, which gives people an incentive to recycle and avoid producing excess garbage.
The report, titled A Better Way to Pay for Solid Waste Management and released on February 5, calls on city officials to charge similar garbage disposal fees.
“The [New York City] Department of Sanitation’s landfilled trash produces more than one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of burning 13,500 tanker trucks of gasoline,” a CBC press release reports. “A garbage fee would help the city meet its goals to double waste diversion by 2020 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.”
But while New York City Department of Sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia says the report offered a “thought-provoking analysis,” she adds that the department isn’t looking to make New Yorkers pay for their trash anytime soon.
“A change of this scale will require a thoughtful dialogue with a variety of stakeholders,” she said in a statement emailed from a department spokeswoman to the Voice. “Certainly, [the department] agrees that price signals are very effective tools for modifying behavior to achieve the City’s sustainability goals. However, given the predominance of multi-unit housing stock that signal would be muted.”
Garcia added that the CBC’s report is “perhaps overly optimistic regarding the unintended consequences of the likely incentive to increase illegal dumping and misuse of litter baskets.”
The plan to make the city’s more than 8 million residents — most of whom are apartment-dwellers — pay for their own waste disposal may sound impossible. But it’s happened in other big cities before, as far away as Berlin, Germany, and Seoul, South Korea.
In Toronto, Canada, residents can choose between a small, medium, large, or extra-large city-owned garbage bin (which is free) based on the amount of garbage they expect to throw away biweekly. They then pay an annual utility fee to the city based on the size of their bin. While households do pay for this garbage disposal, they also get free “green bins” for compost and “blue bins” into which they can load unlimited amounts of recyclables for free. City officials say the bin system leads to more recycling and helps defray the city’s waste disposal costs.
Check out the report on the next page.
A Better Way to Pay for Solid Waste Management