Municipal Solid Waste
Variable Rate Fees

Over the past several years, many communities have found it increasingly difficult to effectively and economically manage their municipal solid waste (MSW). Against a backdrop of steadily rising waste generation rates, some communities have seen their local landfills close, disposal fees rise, and prospects for siting new disposal facilities diminished.

In response, communities have begun adopting new approaches to MSW management, such as conducting education programs intended to help residents understand the need for waste prevention. Some communities have turned to economic incentives to discourage the generation of MSW. One such incentive is the variable rate structure to pasy for MSW collection and disposal.

Traditionally, communities have paid for MSW services through property taxes and through a monthly fee charged to each household. The cost per household remains constant regardless of differences in the amount of waste generated. A variable rate structure (also known as unit pricing or pay-as-you-throw) is a system under which residents pay for MSW services on a per unit of wast collected basis rather than through a fixed fee. Thus, variable rates take into account variations in waste generation by charging households for the amount of trash they place out for collection and disposal. Unit pricing offers an incentive to reduce the amount of waste created (source reduction) as well as an incentive to dispose of less material (recycling).

Basically there are two forms of variable rate programs. Residents can be charged by:

While they operate differently from one another, both programs share a common characteristic: residents who throw away more pay more.

Some potential benefits of a variable rate program include:

Some potential barries to a variable rate program include:

Careful planning and design of a variable rate program to meet the specific needs of a community is the best solution to these potential difficulties. In addition, an effective public education program to communicate the benefits of unit pricing as well as address concerns of residents can help implement better MSW management.

The City of Richardson has been studying variable rate systems. It is possible that within the near future a pilot program will be implemented.

Ed Curran - President
Richardson Environmental Action League (R.E.A.L.)

Columbine, Copyright Totem Graphics
6200 Capitol Blvd., Tumwater, WA 98501

CEP - October 20, 2010