April 17, 2014

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TALKING TRASH: The ins and outs of ‘pay as you throw’

The morning after a party.

We`ve all been there. The house is a disaster area.

You grab a big black garbage bag and walk around, picking up empty soda cans, beer bottles and pizza crusts. You empty ashtrays and pull down decorations. Everything goes into the bag.

When it`s full, you get another one and another one and another one.

Then you take all the bags out to a corner of your yard where they sit until garbage day when you drag them to the curb and the truck comes and hauls them all away.

At least that`s the way it works now.

Conscientious consumers – about 10 percent in Lorain County – throw the cans and bottles in a separate bag to be recycled and put their newspapers in another recycling bag.

But most people put all their trash in the same bag.

That can`t continue, recycling proponents argue.

“We`re supposed to be trying to save the landfill, and people just aren`t doing their job (of recycling),” said Lorain County Solid Waste Management District director Dan Billman.

The solution, Billman and others with the Solid Waste District say, is a volume-based trash system, better known in the county as “pay as you throw.”

The idea is to limit the amount of trash residents can throw away on trash day.
That will force them to recycle more and bring the county closer to its goal of a recycling rate of 25 percent.

How it would work

Each household will be allowed to put a limited number of bags or garbage cans on the curb each week. Exceed the limit, and you have to pay extra. But the idea is to prevent that by not mixing recyclables in with the trash.

To get communities to agree to the concept, the Solid Waste Policy Committee wants to hold back $1.5 million in grants to communities that refuse to switch over to the “pay as you throw” plan.

The grants are doled out by the Solid Waste committee from about $4 million it gets every year from Allied Waste. Allied Waste pays the county a per-ton fee for dumping the trash it collects in its landfill in New Russia Township.

Under the “pay as you throw” plan – already approved by the majority of the county`s communities and the county commissioners – any community that doesn`t make the switch to “pay as you throw” will lose their grants.

But communities aren`t required to keep “pay as you throw” if they don`t like it. They just have to give it a trial run, which means they`ll keep their grants and get a little extra incentive money while running a pilot program.

“Anybody that wants to back out of it, that`s fine,” Billman said. “Allied won`t like it, but that`s fine.”

Going ahead

But “pay as you throw” is far from being a done deal.

Lorain, as the largest city in the county, has veto power over the concept.

If Lorain does not approve the plan by Dec. 5, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency could impose its own plan, which could be the “pay as you throw” Lorain doesn`t want.

Lorain City Council has already voted down the idea once and may do so again when it meets later this month to reconsider.

Lorain officials have two main concerns: What will happen with all the extra trash – the junked furniture and other large items residents can now haul to the curb for pickup – and whether residents will have to pay more for trash pickup.

David Kidder, area marketing manager for Allied Waste, said each city will have to devise its own plan for getting rid of large items.

In LaGrange, a community that has already converted to “pay as you throw,” a central large trash bin is available for residents to dump their big items and extra garbage, while in Grafton, another community already on board, the company sends an extra truck around once a month to collect anything – however large – that residents put on the curb.

As far as fee increases, Kidder said rates are going up over the next five years no matter what.

However, he said they will go up less if “pay as you throw” is adopted.

County Commissioner Lori Kokoski, the only commissioner to vote against the plan, said she doesn`t see the benefit to homeowners who will pay more and be able to throw away less.

“Right now, they have no limitation,” she said. “But (under ‘pay as you throw`) there will be limitations and the cost is going up.”

Allied`s role

Allied sees advantages in “pay as you throw” that have nothing to do with recycling.

The company will be able to cut the number of workers on each truck down to one because the trucks will have mechanical arms to do the heavy lifting.

With fewer workers, the company hopes to have fewer workplace injuries and lower medical costs, Kidder said.

As “pay as you throw” becomes more prevalent in the county and recycling increases, Kidder said Allied expects to hire more workers to ride on the recycling trucks and to work at the company`s recycling facility outside the landfill.

Michael Greenberg, a consultant for the Solid Waste district, said “pay as you throw” makes sense and, as people recycle more, they can cut their monthly trash fee by switching to a smaller trash container.

“The more you recycle, the less trash you have to put on the curb,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.