When was the last time you thought about putting less in your trash bin at home to save yourself some money? If you live in Mecklenburg County, you probably never have. That’s because the amount of trash you produce does not affect your bill – you pay the same no matter how much you put in your bin. If fact, you’ve probably never even seen your bill.
Despite the fact that half of Mecklenburg County’s residents recycle at home, we still trash 742 pounds per person of largely recyclable materials. One of the most successful ways to change this is by adopting a “pay-as-you-throw” approach.
PAYT would transition our current flat fee for trash into a variable fee based on how much we use – just like other utilities such as water, electricity and natural gas. Most of us use as little of those resources as we can because we know it will save us money. Paying only for the garbage we generate would give us the same financial incentive to reduce, recycle, reuse and compost instead.
And we know this is exactly what happens, not only in the more than 7,000 communities across the U.S. that use PAYT but also in North Carolina, where 10 percent of communities already use PAYT. In fact, Catawba County, which uses PAYT, has the state’s highest annual recycling rate at 640 pounds per person. Mecklenburg, which uses a flat fee, ranks 18th in the state, recycling just 161 pounds per person.
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The landfill where most of Mecklenburg’s residential trash is dumped has just 16 years of capacity left. Knowing this, it’s common sense for us to pursue strategies that would extend the life of our existing landfills. PAYT would do just that. According to WasteZero, the Raleigh-based waste reduction company that briefed the city last spring, pay-per-bag garbage systems can reduce the amount of trash cities create by an average of 44 percent. If Mecklenburg cut its trash by this amount, we would extend our landfill life by many years.
We would also cut our greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 152,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. That’s the same impact as taking 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road, or cutting gasoline consumption by 17 million gallons – every year.
Cutting Charlotte’s trash by 44 percent would reduce our annual energy use by the amount of energy used to fully power 11,000 single-family homes in a year.
It’s rare that any option for such truly profound environmental and economic gains presents itself – much less one that would result from such a simple change as paying for our waste the way we pay for nearly everything else. I encourage everyone in Mecklenburg who is interested in conserving our natural and financial resources to join Sustain Charlotte in supporting PAYT.