Pay-as-you-throw garbage collection is back on the table in the Village of Cobleskill as trustees grapple with the rising costs of trash removal. While the temptation to save costs by removing trash collection from the Village budget is a powerful incentive, the new system being proposed could have village residents throwing away their money more than anything else.
Initially, PAYT emerged as a brainchild of the libertarian far right as a way to rationalize waste disposal by individualizing costs and benefits. In a twist of irony, the idea was later adopted by some environmentalists who believe that PAYT incentivizes recycling and reduces waste streams. Ithaca, NY of all places uses PAYT for trash removal, precisely because it has been so successfully re-packaged as a green reform.
However, the other side to PAYT is that the system radically shifts the burden of paying for trash removal from a somewhat more progressive system where the costs are built in to your property tax bill to a far more regressive system where the poorest of the poor pay the same rates as the richest of the rich. This regressive system can be compounded for poor households that happen to be larger in size and who will therefore tend to generate more waste. The bottom line is that under PAYT, the poor pay more for trash removal as their fees constitute a higher portion of their household income.
Admittedly, PAYT is a system that has generated a considerable amount of “curb appeal” as an innovative way to privatize a costly municipal service AND at the same increase recycling. However, PAYT often makes trash removal unnecessarily complicated, encourages illegal dumping and regressively shifts the burden of trash removal costs to the poor. With these obvious positives and negatives, PAYT is clearly a mixed bag. Any municipality interested in adopting a PAYT system should look carefully at these positives and negatives and weigh them against each other. In Cobleskill, that doesn’t appear to be happening. Instead, village trustees seem to be looking to pawn off an expensive service on village residents with little regard for the economic impact it will have.