Variable-Rate or Pay-as-you-throw Waste Management: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Publication Date: July 2002

Publisher: Reason Foundation

Author(s): Lisa A. Skumatz

Research Area: Environment

Type: Report


As landfills fill up and recycling opportunities increase, more communities across the nation are interested in reducing waste disposal and its costs. City managers are considering a variety of strategies to improve incentives to recycling and composting, as well as increasing the variety of materials that can be recycled or composted. Variable-rate pricing, or "pay as you throw," is a new strategy with a growing number of advocates. Under a variable-rate system, customers are provided an economic signal to reduce the waste they throw away because garbage bills increase with the volume or weight of waste they dispose. Variable-rate pricing is being adopted in thousands of communities to create incentives for additional recycling in the residential sector. This study demonstrates that rate incentives in solid waste have strong and measurable effects on waste disposal behavior and waste disposal. Towns implementing variable-rate programs can expect to see reductions of more than 15 percent in tons disposed, with increases in recycling, yard-waste diversion, and measurable impacts on the highest rung on the waste-management hierarchy: source reduction.