Editorial: Pay as you throw model is trash collection method of Carroll's 'FuTuRe'

Slow progress is still progress. Earlier this week, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to move a trash collection model that treats garbage like a metered utility to the public engagement phase.

For years known as the pay-as-you-throw model, it has undergone a bit of rebranding and county officials are now calling it the Fair Trash Reduction program, or FuTuRe.


Awkward acronyms aside, we’re glad to see the current board of commissioners continue to support this idea, or at least have an open mind about it. It’s certainly not a new concept. Dusty Hilbert, bureau chief of solid waste for the county Department of Public Works, noted during Thursday’s discussion that a pay-as-you-throw model has been part of the county’s solid waste plan for more than two decades. Yet, this is the most progress made on implementing such a plan in that time frame.

Moving to this second phase will develop a messaging campaign to explain the need to reduce waste, the pilot pay-as-you-throw program and its potential impact, and guidance to municipal officials on how to participate. The pilot program, which would be Phase 3, is a crucial step to make sure things run smoothly before a pay-as-you-throw model is implemented on a larger scale.

Essentially, pay-as-you-throw incentivizes recycling — which would still be collected for free — by charging per bag of trash left curbside. In the more than 2,000 communities across the country where it has been utilized, there has been a 25 to 35 percent reduction in waste, according to a factsheet on the topic from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Honestly, we’re surprised more county residents haven’t come on board with the pay-as-you-throw model previously. While the specifics of Carroll’s program will still need to be worked out — and that will be part of the messaging phase — it should save county residents money in the long run.

Hilbert said the average resident could save $30 to $40 a year. The concept of paying for services you use and not subsidizing other people who may use more of those services should resonate with a number of county residents. For example, a senior who lives by herself should generate less trash and therefore pay less money for garbage collection than a family of four. It would also save the family that diligently recycles money versus the family that doesn’t — remember, recycling will still be collected for free.

It should also save the county money. A chief concern is that Carroll is paying too much to bury trash at Northern Landfill and have other refuse transferred to sites in Pennsylvania, at a cost of about $4.5 million each year, in order to prolong the use of the existing landfill space. The county also subsidizes landfill costs with money from the general fund, about $2.5 million a year, in order to keep tipping fees low.

Solid waste officials have estimated the pay-as-you-throw model would result in about 25,000 tons less trash that needs to be landfilled or transferred annually, or $1.6 million in savings. It will also continue to delay the need for additional landfill space, which will be a major capital expense when the time comes.

While county officials strive to make clear this is not a revenue generator, the savings could be diverted to help pay for other services, or returned to citizens, depending on how commissioners would want to proceed.

Commissioners are certainly taking it slow, but keep moving the ball forward. We think once a pilot program is finally implemented, so long as it’s also given time to let people change their habits, elected officials and residents will be pleased with how it all works.