UNH Study: Pay-As-You-Throw Can Cut Trash Generation In Half

Nov 5, 2018

New research from UNH says pay-as-you-throw trash programs are sharply reducing solid waste generation in New Hampshire towns.

Roughly 1 in 5 New Hampshire towns and cities use pay-as-you-throw. Usually, that means they only collect trash that's put in official municipal trash bags, which residents have to buy for a dollar or two a piece.

UNH environmental economist John Halstead and his team found homes in towns with the program threw away an average of half as much trash as those without – less than 800 pounds a year, compared to more than 1,500.

Halstead says it's more evidence that pay-as-you-throw can become a rare ideal economic solution in the right circumstances.

“You don’t subsidize it – you make people pay for what they produce, and you make them see the cost of what they’re producing,” he says. “And then they decide, is it worth it to me to just buy more bags, or should I cut back? And so they change their behavior accordingly.”

He says pay-as-you-throw appears to work best in towns where curbside pick-up is economical and practical, and where there’s enough trash to strain the local budget, making enforcement of pay-as-you-throw worthwhile.

"It's more efficient because people start to think about how much it's costing them, and it's fairer because you only pay for what you produce."

Plus he says there’s no evidence that pay-as-you-throw causes a lasting increase in illegal dumping.

His data also shows a correlation between pay-as-you-throw and increased recycling. He hopes to explore that in future studies.