Meditations on the Yellow Bags

From the FY2013 city budget:

Trash Fees
On November 29, 1993, the City instituted a “pay as you throw” trash collection program. The City of Worcester Pay as You Throw trash program partially funds the cost of curbside garbage pickup through the collection of a fee attached to the sale of official city trash bags. These bags are $7.50 per pack of 5 large or 10 small bags. The revenues offset some of the cost of trash collection and the City’s recycling operation. To use the City’s collection program, residents must dispose of solid waste in City approved yellow trash bags. The revenue estimate has been maintained at the same level as Fiscal Year 2012 to $3.2M for this category.

[p.18/9]

Trash Bags:
Trash bag cost (the amount paid by the D.P.W. for manufacturing and distribution) is projected to level funded at $400,000. The contracted small and large bag price is $0.158 per large bags and $0.081 for small bags. The estimated number of bags to be sold in Fiscal 2013 is approximately 3.05 million bags.

[p. 206/197]

On p. 205/196 (first number is to search the pdf; the second is the page as numbered in the budget document), the cost for refuse disposal is budgeted at $1,677,104 for FY2013, associated natural gas and fuel is budgeted at $31,412 and recycling at $2,045,509.  That’s a total of $3,754,025.

That means that trash bag fees cover all but $550,000 or so of the cost of trash removal (about 85%).  If we factor in the cost of the bags ($400,000), it’s more like 77%.  (So, if we wanted to fully fund the trash collection with the bag fee, we’d need to raise the fee to about $2 for large bags and about $1 for small bags.)

In 2009, “Worcester collect[ed] trash and recycling from dwellings of six units or less, or about 52,000 households.”  Assuming the number of households is relatively stable, the average household uses 58 bags a year.

If the average household is buying 58 trash bags, and the average household buys only large trash bags, then trash for the year costs approximately $87, or $1.67 a week.

How much trash is expected to be hauled away in FY2013?  21,842 tons, or about 0.42 tons a household.  (The tipping fee for FY2013 will be increasing to $74.29/ton.)

If we’re recycling 31% of our trash at curbside [p. 209/200], then I estimate that we’ll be recycling about 9,822 tons in FY2013, at a cost of $208.25 a ton (or $39/household/year).  This seems a bit high when compared with what the EPA estimates.

What I’d like to see someone ask (this year, if possible; if not, next year for sure):

  • Why does it cost us so much to recycle?  Is it because we have zero-sort recycling?  Is it because we have weekly recycling pickup?  What are other communities with zero-sort/weekly pickup paying per ton to recycle?
  • What would happen (budget-wise) if our recycling rate went up 5, 10, or 20 percent?
  • Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, we were considered a model community of pay-as-you-throw and recycling (see here, here and here).  What are the next steps we need to take if we want to continue as a community who leads the way for waste removal?

I hope to use the blog to think more about trash in the months ahead, and I’d be interested to hear readers’ thoughts  and questions.

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