It is a commonly accepted belief that people are much more careful about consumption (heat, electricity, food, etc.) when they have to pay for how much they use. That’s why all of these things — and many more — are on a user-based system. Users pay for what they use.

The question then becomes why would trash disposal, a very expensive municipal service, not be the same way?

On Tuesday, June 3, the Waterville City Council answered this question by adopting a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) system on a one-year trial basis. If Waterville residents find that this new approach isn’t working, they will have the opportunity to vote it out on June 9, 2015.

The current trash pick-up system in Waterville will not change. The city will continue to pick up trash for all residential buildings with four units or less.

Businesses and large apartment buildings will not have to purchase bags and will continue to contract out their own waste disposal.

Because up until now trash disposal costs have been paid for through property taxes, these commercial properties and large apartment building owners have been paying twice for trash disposal; once on their own, to hire a private company for trash removal, and the second time when they pay their property taxes.

Renters pay nothing directly and have no incentives to reduce volume/recycle.

Is that system fair? Has our system up until now encouraged conservation and recycling?

The city’s Solid Waste Committee has spent the past six months examining these issues and recommending strongly in favor of a pay-as-you-throw approach for solid waste disposal for the following reasons:

• Like most other things, trash disposal should be on a user-based system. You pay for what you use and throw away.

• Fifty-one percent of the city’s housing units are rental units. There are no incentives for renters to be careful about how much they throw away nor how much they recycle.

• At a total cost of $665,000 per year, trash disposal is one of the city’s biggest expenditures. With a change to PAYT, the city’s estimated annual savings are $323,000.

• It is estimated that our solid waste tonnage could decrease 25 percent to 40 percent with a PAYT system.

• At the same time, it is estimated that our recycling volume will increase substantially.

• With the savings from a PAYT approach, the city will be able to institute an every-other-week curbside recycling service.

All these reasons are important, but the most important one may have to do with the future.

Since 1988, the city has disposed of its solid waste at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator in Orrington. Because the city was joined by 186 other communities at that time, our waste disposal costs have been very favorable for a very long time.

All of this will change when the contract expires in 2018. The good deal we had at PERC will be gone and in its place will be much higher disposal fees. Some predict the fees will be twice as high as what we are now paying.

That is why some communities in Maine have already made the switch. In all, there are approximately 140 towns and cities across the state that have switched to pay-as-you-throw.

We need to begin now to change our waste disposal habits and become much more attuned to what is discarded. We believe a pay-as-you-throw system will accomplish this and provide substantial savings year after year.

Michael J. Roy is city manager of Waterville.

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