Orleans Considers Pay-As-You-Throw To Encourage Recycling

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Recycling and Solid Waste

ORLEANS – Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) systems encourage users to separate out recyclables; disposal of their remaining trash requires purchase of specially marked bags. 

In a presentation to the selectmen and the board of health last week, DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley said that, on balance, it's mostly free to recycle compared to municipal solid waste disposal costs of $95 a ton. Economically and environmentally, he said, it's essential to get all the recyclables out of the waste stream, which PAYT would help accomplish.

The recycling market has taken some hits lately, but Daley remains bullish on its current and potential value. He ran down the elements of the town's program and related costs for disposal: clothing (free), bottle return (free, with revenue to local causes), tin cans (free), waste oil and cardboard (low to free), propane tanks ($300 a year), tires ($400 a year), mercury products ($1,500 a year), plastics and mixed paper (half the $95/ton cost of municipal solid waste, batteries (hundreds of dollars in revenue a year), and metal ($140/ton in revenue).

Recycling is about more than the revenue. It uses less energy than the processing of raw materials for new products, according to Daley, who said that recycling plastic requires half the oil needed to produce new materials. Recycling aids reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

Displaying a federal Environmental Protection Agency illustration, Daley showed a breakdown of municipal waste: paper 34 percent, yard trimmings 13 percent, food scraps 12 percent, plastics 12 percent, metals, 8 percent, wood 6 percent, glass 5 percent, textiles/other 10 percent. Almost all of that is easily recycled, he said.

“In my lifetime, we'll be zero waste,” Daley said. “Food scraps now are kind of like what recycling was 30 years ago. People are starting to compost food scraps. The next thing I want to look at at the transfer station is composting food scraps. It saves money.”

Pay-as-you-throw could reduce by 40 percent the trash Orleans trucks off-Cape for disposal, according to Daley, with a $64,000 reduction in costs. The system is already in place in Sandwich and 153 other communities in Massachusetts. Worcester had a 2 percent recycling rate before PAYT; afterward, that percentage rose to 36.

Daley offered several options for rolling out the program. To meet the mandate to provide 80 percent of revenue from transfer station operations, the sticker fee could be reduced to $60 and three sizes of bags (8-gallon for 50 cents, 15-gallon for $1.25, and 30-gallon for $1.75) would be sold for materials not being recycled. Other options adjust those factors up or down.

Under the current system, someone living alone pays the same sticker price as a large family that generates much more trash. PAYT might foster more equity, but board of health member John Kanaga cautioned against shifting the burden to young families. Later, Daley said PAYT would work to reduce everyone's trash. “It kind of turns into a bit of a game,” he said. “How much trash can I get rid of? How few bags can I buy to stick it to the man? A big part of it is public education.”

“I think the town's ready for this,” Selectman Kevin Galligan said. “Frankly, I think it's long overdue. We need to play with the numbers to see if there's a way to implement fees so it doesn't burden one family or another.”

It's up to the board of health to set rates and regulations for the transfer station with the support of the board of selectmen. Health Director Bob Canning said both need to determine if a change would be made with or without a town meeting vote. “I'd like to see the board of health hash this out and get some information to the board of selectmen by early June at the latest,” health board member Sims McGrath said.