EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Leaders Should Implement a PAYT Waste Management System

As the new mayor and city council continue to get settled in to their new offices, we would like to suggest a policy reform that should be enacted immediately to help improve the city’s environment, balance its budget and give residents and businesses greater flexibility in terms of their trash collection.

Since the city debuted its new system of trash collection, it has been riddled with complaints from upset citizens and business owners unhappy about not being able to throw away the amount of trash that they generate. This is a problem since reports of illegal dumping have picked up in various neighborhoods.

At the same time, the new system represents an improvement over the old in terms of its efficiency. The city is now able to reduce staff levels on each garage truck, avoid safety risks associated with employees lifting and maneuvering heavy trash cans, and boost recycling rates. All of these reforms save the city money and help the city protect its workers from injury on the job.

In order to resolve the ongoing issues, while also preserving the advances that have been made, UrbanCincy urges the new mayor and city council to immediately implement a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) system.

Such a system is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for its environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and its equity. What the USEPA has noticed is that communities using such a system have realized increased recycling rates, balanced and consistent revenue streams for municipalities looking to offset the costs of their waste collection, and improved equity in terms of how payments are made by the diverse range of users in the system.

As of 2006, USEPA data showed that 243 communities throughout Ohio were utilizing a PAYT system. Cincinnati should be the next.

When implementing a PAYT system, communities are able to choose from charging users a specific fee per bag or can of waste they generate. In communities where the capabilities are available, like Cincinnati, officials can be more precise and charge residents based on the weight of trash they generate.

Due to the potential complexities and higher administrative costs of managing such a variable-rate system, we recommend that city officials set a base rate for each 64-gallon can, with fixed prices for each additional can after that.

This is both a fair and effective means of managing waste collection. It allows users to generate as much or as little trash as they desire without any fear of exceeding the size constraints of their trash can. Those who recycle more, and discard less, are rewarded with lower fees.

If the new mayor and city council would like to pursue a version of this approach that could benefit low-income communities, then we would recommend developing a partnership with a local company or organization, or pursue grant money, that could cover the costs of any user within the city’s established empowerment zones. This would allow the city to continue to improve its financial standing and service delivery, while also working to aid residents and businesses within the neighborhoods that need it most.

In the last full year of budget data, the City of Cincinnati spent $11,320,530 on its Waste Collections Program. This was a $758,740 reduction from the previous year’s expenditures due largely to the elimination of 12 full-time equivalent staff positions. Meanwhile, there is no direct revenue source to pay for this program.

Of course, COAST and its allies successfully pushed through a broadly written Charter amendment in 2011 (Issue 47), which was opposed by the Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce, that prohibits the City from assessing, levying, or collecting taxes or general assessment on real properties, or against the owners or occupants thereof, for the collection of trash, garbage, waste, rubbish or refuse.

What this means is that the City is permanently stuck with an $11-12 million hole in its budget every year. Most communities around the nation and throughout the region already charge their residents and businesses directly for waste collection. Cincinnati has been unique in being able to not directly charge for this service, but times have changed, and so must its policies. Waste collection should collect as much in revenue as is reasonable to help offset the costs to administer the program.

If the new mayor and city council want to get real about passing a structurally balanced budget while not severely degrading the services it provides its residents and businesses, then there should be no question about whether or not to implement a PAYT system as quickly as possible. We cannot afford to let allow an $11.3 million hole sit in our budget.

Implementing a Pay As You Throw system will help structurally balance the city’s budget. It will help improve our environment and the health of our communities. And it will improve the lives for Cincinnati residents and businesses who demand high quality public services with the flexibility they desire in their day-to-day lives. And most importantly, it has the ability to do all of this in an equitable manner for all Cincinnatians.

  • Mark Christol

    A. people want their ‘free stuff’.
    B. have you watched the sanitation guys work? I really doubt they are capable of collecting the required info.

    per the automated lifting – those guys usually open my can & just pull out the bags & toss ’em into the truck. Anything loose just sits.

    • The city’s new equipment would collect most of this data on its own. There are chips built into the new recycling carts, and I believe the new trash carts as well. If they are not, then they could be easily retrofitted to have them.

  • Matt Jacob

    Any idea how they got commercial users and residences over 4 apartment units to pay for trash in spite of the amendment? I know many small business owners hate the new system and feel like second class citizens because of it. They pay city taxes and don’t get free trash removal while the single family houses and smaller apartments do. I tend to agree with them; either everyone should pay for it or no one. Based on the amendment, how does anyone get charged?

    • Cody Tim Rush-Ossenbeck

      We weren’t given a choice. They simply told us our services would not be “extended” Their reasoning was that since we don’t pay a specific tax for trash they could cut the services and used the excuse that they didn’t have the ability to regulate containers for such a large property.

    • Matt Jacob

      So they got around the amendment by cutting service rather than charging a new fee to commercial users (which would have gotten axed by the amendment). Then it seems pretty clear to me that they could do the same thing for single family houses and smaller apartments by ending trash service completely.

      Citizens getting angry is probably all that is stopping them. But if we want to get to a structurally balanced budget then maybe it’s better to cut one big service entirely vs a hundred smaller cuts that keep us in this hole forever. Choices….

    • I would rather see the city continue to provide garbage collection (and recycling) services, but of course, the 2011 amendment would need to be repealed in order to implement a PAYT system.

    • xclone25x

      Yeah, commercial and larger multi-units have to contract out their trash services at their own expense in the city now. Seems like bologna to me that it’s not an “all or nothing” proposition. The service has dropped, but I haven’t seen a drop in my income or real estate taxes. Nevermind the fact that most of the 18 units in our downtown condo building are owner-occupied (not an investment property) and that collecting the four or five bins from the sidewalk in front of our place is a heck of a lot more efficient and cost-effective than collecting the same output from 18 separate bins at 18 separate locations for single-family residence collection still provided by the city. Logic be damned.

  • Matt Jacob

    So you’re proposing that the charter amendment from 2011 be repealed then? We’ve basically stuck ourselves with the trash bill because of it. Even if you repeal it, passing the burden of trash removal to the residents is going to bring cries of a new tax, which it is, regardless of if other cities tend to tax their residents this way or not. In Cincinnati people expect this as one of their basic services, rightly or wrongly.

    If the city wants to get rid of the expense it might be easier to disband the city service and let Rumpke and Bavarian fill the void. Sell off the trucks and let citizens figure out how to get rid of their garbage on their own. They’ll have choices and they could even sellout to an outside company like Waste Management to add even more competition here. There’d have to be much better enforcement of dumping and littering in the transition(which would bring in positive revenue until people complied and started paying for private service). I can see it now: Cranley saying that the city is getting out of the trash business and doing what he does best; shutting something down.

    • What many cities do is create a list of qualified vendors that meet certain requirements. Citizens must then select from one of those vendors for their trash collection. In Cincinnati’s case the two most common vendors are Rumpke and Bavarian.

      Certainly people will view it as a new tax, but I fail to understand why the City of Cincinnati is the only place in Hamilton County that must meet these standards of service, yet be mocked by everyone else for their perceived poor financial standing.

    • Matt Jacob

      I don’t disagree that the double standard is unfair, just pointing out that it’s the reality of the situation. So are you advocating for a vendor system with the city disbanding their service or repealing the amendment and then just passing the cost on to users as a new “tax”? I wasn’t sure from the article

  • 2crows

    Then people who can’t afford your system won’t throw their garbage into someone else’s can, or worse, along the roadside or into vacant lots? Get a clue, junior….

    • This is not typically the experience from other cities around the state or country. But if there is a strong concern that people will do this, that is why we suggested free collection areas based on designated empowerment zones.

  • nfrapp

    I have lived in a city that implemented PAYT (Bloomington Indiana). It worked better than most citizens expected. It did not lead to the large amount of illegal dumping that I anticipated. The cost was $1.00 per bag or trash can. I usually bought a bunch of trash stickers at the store when I bought trash bags. Recycling was free. Recycling did increase significantly. The program was run by the city. The revenue from the waste stickers covered the most of cost of the waste disposal. In this situation, the recycling was in small bins. This allowed the collectors to inspect the recycling. If it contained trash they would not pick it up. This kept people from throwing trash in the recycling to avoid paying for trash pick up. It took a while for people to adjust to this system. But after a while, it became part of life.

    I have also lived in a city (Indianapolis) that contracted it’s waste collection for some neighborhoods to a private company. The service was unreliable. The neighborhoods with the private contractor often had trash left by the side of the road. The contractor would not pick up cardboard boxes, furniture and often “overlooked” trash. The driver who serviced my street once started shouting at my neighbor about the trash. The affluent and influential neighborhoods had great trash service. The working class and poor neighborhoods had poor to terrible service. People who once complained about how bad the city trash collection was, soon wished they had it back after it was contracted out to Rumpke.

    PAYT was hard for me to wrap my head around when Bloomington Indiana started it. But it did work. Even with a transient student population and pockets of poverty. I think it deserves consideration.

    I do hope that the city continues to run the trash service. While city collection is less than perfect, they do need to keep us happy or people get voted out of office. With a private contractor, they are out to maximize profits. Our satisfaction is barely a consideration.

    • I wonder just how DO you prevent people from throwing trash in the recycling bins when they’re the same size as the trash cans, so they’re hard to inspect? With single-stream recycling the recyclables can even be in garbage bags, so there can be all sorts of stuff mixed in.

  • Noah Buddy

    I participated in a PAYT system in MI and it worked great. There was already a deposit on cans and bottles, and other separated recycling was free. It provided an incentive to increase recycling, reduce use of paper towels, and increase composting. Now that we’ve brought those habits back to Cincinnati, the new container has rarely been more than 1/2 full.

  • This issue is the same as all the others, if you’re looking for reasons not to do something you’ll find them in abundance. What I see are low income people who generate little trash subsidizing higher income people who generate large amounts. And of course the people who vote more often are the people who benefit most.