Pay-as-you-throw is a policy that charges people for the amount of trash they toss out. It’s also sometimes called variable-rate pricing or pay-as-you-waste.
Many cities and towns around the world, including over 7,000 in the U.S., have pay-as-you-throw waste policies. Examples include Seattle, Berkeley, Austin and Portland, Maine.
Large cities often require residents to purchase special trash bags or stickers so that they pay separately for every bag of trash. Or people may have to sign up for a certain level of waste collection service, which limits how much garbage they can set out on the curb.
Pay-as-you-throw is one of local governments’ most effective tools for reducing waste, controlling waste disposal costs and giving residents an incentive to participate in recycling and composting programs. Once households begin paying directly for waste services, they tend to rapidly reduce how much they throw away. In Massachusetts, for example, towns with pay-as-you-throw systems generated an average of 1,239 pounds of trash per household in 2020, compared with 1,756 pounds per household in towns that didn’t use this approach — a 30 percent reduction.
Such a shift can mean that people recycle and compost more, so the total volume of the waste stream remains relatively stable. But over time, pay-as-you-throw communities tend to see a decline in the total amount discarded, including recycling and compost.