Statement of Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D. to Sanitation Committee, NYCity Council

Vice Chair, NYC Waste Prevention Coalition

February 7, 2002

 

Waste Prevention Can Save the City Money!

In 1991, the Department of Sanitation's (DOS) waste prevention consultants and the Manhattan SWAB's waste prevention committee recommended waste prevention programs to reduce the waste stream by the New York State goal of 9% by the year 2000. The consultants estimated these programs would cost about $20 per ton. In 2000 the DOS' long-delayed, 10-volume waste prevention research by the SAIC consultants showed that the few, mainly business waste prevention programs it had implemented, had cost $27/ton. In contrast, the Independent Budget Office figured that avoided collection costs (i.e. savings) due to waste prevention cost $77/ton, and export costs $95/ton, so any investment in waste prevention saves $145/ton over exporting. This amounts to a savings of over $40 million annually once waste prevention measures reduce export by 10%. Clearly, money dedicated to preventing waste is an investment that pays for itself; it's not money wasted on export.

According to the DOS' 1991 consultants, disposal savings would have been $87 to $92 million in the year 2000, or $700 to $800 million cumulatively between 1992 and 2010 in 1991 dollars if it had only implemented our recommended programs. This reduction of 600,000 tons a year would have reduced collection costs by an additional $26 to $29 million in the year 2000 (because of the slightly reduced number of truckshifts).  Vehicle miles traveled would be reduced by 1.6 million miles per year, a 3% decrease, which would reduce vehicular air emissions by a comparable amount. This waste prevention would have also reduced air and water pollution avoided by not manufacturing products and packaging not purchased, as well as pollution from landfills and incinerators.

Prevention programs become increasingly cost-effective as prevented percentages increase.  The reason for this is that larger prevented tonnages allow relatively greater reductions in truck shifts and facility capacity. So there is every reason to be taking greatest advantage of as many waste prevention programs as we can devise.

 

It's Time for "Pay as You Throw"

One of the programs DOS' consultants and the Waste Prevention Committee recommended in 1991 was "Pay as you Throw" (PAYT). This is an equitable billing system, akin to charging per unit of electricity, that gives waste generators an incentive to reduce the amount of garbage they generate and increase their recycling. Research has shown that PAYT programs reduce waste disposal by an average of 16-17%* This would translate in New York City to export savings of $125,000 per day, conservatively estimated **. More than five thousand cities and towns across the United States (over 200 in New York State) have been charging by the bag or can for garbage services, while providing recycling cheaply or for free.

In stark contrast to the equitable PAYT system, in New York City, the government unwittingly encourages people to be careless about wasting. The costs of waste management here are paid for by income tax receipts; residents have no idea how much they pay for waste services, or even that they pay anything at all! PAYT incentive programs are most effective in concert with ongoing education programs to teach people how to purchase less waste (buying fewer disposables, less packaging), how to repair and reuse durable items, and how to donate or sell usable items rather than discard them.

USEPA has been a big proponent of PAYT. The agency distributes a free Toolkit of information about PAYT with a video, as well as a website http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/payt/index.htm. Information tailored to urban areas with apartment buildings is available at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/payt/top11.htm Perceived barriers to implementation like low-income families, seniors, and illegal dumping have been addressed elsewhere. New York City would benefit by observing years of experience in designing programs by other cities and towns.

EPA is so interested in seeing PAYT in New York City that its local office held a day-long session in December, 2000 to show New York City officials how PAYT could be successful here. During that workshop Buffalo showed how their PAYT program reduced their rat problem by requiring that rat-proof bins be used. PAYT programs have been successful in encouraging residents to recycle sometimes 10% more of their discards, since it is economically advantageous to do so. In fact, research by SERA indicates that PAYT is the single, most effective initiative that a municipality can pursue to increase recycling rates. In late 2000 DOS testified to the City Council that it was prepared to implement whatever PAYT program it was directed to do by the City Council and Administration.

Recommendation:

Shouldn't the City vigorously pursue the first steps to implementing PAYT here (e.g., 1) making sure that building/home owners know how much of their taxes are used for garbage services annually, 2) instituting PAYT pilot programs in neighborhoods with differing housing stock to determine and resolve any problems), and 3) eventually making the program citywide? We think so, and suggest that the Council fund the programs and pilots needed to transition from the current, inequitable, wasteful system, where no one knows what they pay and everyone pays the same, to one where everyone pays for the amount of service they consume. The advisory community would be happy to work with the DOS / Council to propose designs for the transition measures and pilots.

Final Remarks

The Department of Sanitation spent $3.2 million on the Science Applications International Corporationís Waste Prevention Research Reports and failed to include a single recommendation of theirs in the Solid Waste Management Plan Modification.

The City is wasting a golden opportunity to plan a sustainable waste management system that saves money, reduces environmental impacts, generates local economic development, and reduces risk as compared with exporting to other states.

Other jurisdictions are moving forward with bold plans for Zero Waste (California), and major (30%+) waste prevention goals (Canberra, Australia). Waste Prevention measures could cost as much as $140/ton and still be preferable to export purely on an economic basis, so there is no excuse for the sluggish investment in prevention. We should be taking every opportunity to study and quickly adapt waste prevention programs to New York City as quickly as possible. We stand ready to help.

------------------------------------------------

* Lisa Skumatz, SERA, Pay as You Throw session at National Recycling Coalition Congress, Seattle, WA, Jan. 2002.

** Assumes a reduction of 16% of 13,000 tons per day residential waste at $60 export cost per ton.