Should We Pay $2 Per Pound for Garbage Disposal?


In many European countries, including Germany, throwing away garbage is a costly affair. Whether it’s based on weight, volume, or some other system, it’s a way to cut down on the physical amount that people throw away. And I have to wonder, should we implement something like that here in America?

As someone who loves savings, the idea of charging by the pound for garbage collection is scary to say the least. But that’s because, right now at least, I’m quite lax when it comes to the things I throw away.

We do not compost in my family. We should, but it’s just something we never got around to doing. We recycle when we can, but we haven’t set up a regular collection yet (shame on us, I know; space is an issue right now though). I recycle paper and cardboard at work. At home, not so much. All in all, I’d get a definite FAIL in the good garbage SATs. (See also: Make Money Recycling)

Sadly, most of the people I know would fail as well. And that’s simply because people don’t want to go to the time and trouble of sorting out different piles of garbage, having five different trash cans in the garage, tying up newspaper with twine, and so on. It’s a hassle.

Fees, the Great Deterrent

Apply a significant fee to the cost of hauling away your garbage, on top of the one you already pay for the trash removal service, and you may think twice before dumping everything in the bin. I know I would.

So how would it work? Weighing scales? Measuring sticks? Special bags or containers?

Well, on the website Reddit, a user called Nachteule breaks down one such service that’s employed in Germany. It basically uses different colored trash barrels for different kinds of trash. Here’s how Nachteule describes it:

  • The Braune Tonne/Biotonne (brown trash barrel) for compost
  • The Blaue Tonne/Papiertonne (blue trash barrel) for paper and cardboard
  • The Gelbe Tonne/Gelber Sack (yellow trash sack/barrel) for plastic packaging
  • The Graue Tonne/Restmüll (grey trash barrel) for trash that can't be recycled (for example a broken small electrics like a watch or a toaster, cold ashes, broken ceramics...)

There is also a public service that will get old clothes that are still wearable to support homeless persons and January there is also the "Weihnachtbaumabholung" — that's the day they will collect your old Christmas tree for free.

Each trash barrel has a fee based on the size and color. For instance, the grey 16-gallon trash barrel, for unusable garbage, costs around $140/year. Other systems in Germany weigh the garbage, charging by the kilogram ($4/kg, or roughly $2/lb).

It’s Working Over There. Would It Work Here?

The net result of all these measures is that in Germany (and Europe) people are way more reluctant to just throw their waste into a big pile for the garbage collector. Everything is sorted, recycled, composted, and donated, so that only a very small pile of garbage is left out. And if we all recycled, and I mean all, then we would see less waste, experience more savings, and help our planet. Sounds good to me.

In fact, I talked to Meg Favreau, Wise Bread's Senior Editor, about a system already in place in Ithaca, New York. Here's the basic set-up, according to the city's website:

A trash tag must be placed on the neck of each trash bag, or on the handle of each trash can used. A trash tag is valid for cans and/or bags weighing up to 35 pounds. If more than one bag of trash is put into a can, please make sure the total weight of the can does not exceed 35 pounds.

Effective January 1, 2011, the price of City of trash tags will be $3.50 each. The tags are sold in a sheet of 6 for $21.00, or can be purchased individually at the City Chamberlain’s Office only.

Is Ithaca the exception to the rule? Probably, although if your town employs such a system we'd love to know about it. But to my knowledge, nothing as comprehensive as the German system is in place here in the states.

So what do you think? Is it worth considering? Would you rather stick with the current system of throwing everything out on the curb? Or do you have an even better idea? Let us know.

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Guest's picture

Upper Arlington, Ohio uses a system similar to Ithaca's. We have to pay for trash stickers, and also to dispose of yard waste (although you can drop them off at the city's compost station for free). Recycling is free.

Guest's picture
Music Teacher

Many towns around me charge for garbage. Typically, the town has a crazy-colored garbage bag, and trash has to be bagged in those bags in order to be picked up. The town sells the bags through local grocery stores. In my town, there is no trash pickup at all. You go to the dump, or you pay someone to go to the dump for you. I also used to live in Italy as a child, where there were fees for garbage.

Personally, I don't mind - living in a "dump town" makes my overall taxes go down, and I'm not paying for a service that I would rather perform myself. However, the previous owner of my home was too lazy to go to the dump, and burned trash at home - Even indoors in the fireplace. He did a lot of damage, and I imagine the pollution wasn't great. In Italy, there was an astronomical amount of illegal dumping. I remember one sidewalk, to get to the market - there were so many bags of trash thrown on the corner that you would have to leave the sidewalk and walk halfway into a lane of traffic in order to go around the heap. It would be a great solution if everyone were responsible. I wonder, though, if there have been studies about how much illegal dumping and/or burning occur in towns that charge for garbage or have a self-serve dump.

Guest's picture

Problem is we would have a significant percent of the population that would just start dumping trash on others, in fields, etc. Even Germany's roadways are supper clean - they just don't trash their country like Americans do. So even though this concept is just fine with me and I wouldn't complain...I know too many people that would begin throwing trash wherever they could get away with it. And nothing would stop them short of loosing their state and gov benefits forever if they get caught. And thats just not going to happen.

Guest's picture

I think it could work over here, but I wouldn't support it. Only because local governments or HOAs already include garbage disposal as either part of your property taxes, or other fees. I don't think paying per pound would eliminate these charges from bills where they are already included.
But it would certainly force people to think about what they're buying, and whether or not they want to pay to throw it out.
On the flip side, it might add to the trash pollution problems.. Our area is considering charging for plastic bags, supposedly as an effort to keep people from using them and to help clean up bodies of water. But readily available plastic bags aren't the cause of misplaced waste..

Guest's picture
Suzanne Favreau

Our small NH town instituted mandatory recycling and pay per bag trash disposal a number of years ago. Initially I hated it and really wanted to continue the practice of throwing all my unwanted stuff in a big hole in the ground at the town dump. However, the work involved in separating household waste no longer seems like a chore because it's what I do on a day to day basis. Newspapers, magazines, glass, plastic, aluminum, tin, yard waste, hazardous waste etc. all have to be separated from garbage. Garbage goes into bags that we purchase for $ .30/each. Other items, like computers, that I want to dispose of have separate charges. Being forced to separate and pay for what I throw away makes me more aware of what I'm doing.

Guest's picture

"It’s Working Over There. Would It Work Here?"

No it will not work here. The reason is there is too much open space in the US, unlike Europe where every square inch has been accounted for since the Middle Ages. The higher the fees on garbage go, the greater the incentive to illegally dump this garbage in "the middle of nowhere." If the fees are high enough a whole black market will arise based on despoiling nature.

This is also unnecessary... with resource prices skyrocketing there are natural incentives to recycle. In the past, only aluminum and other metals have been worth recycling, economically speaking. This will change soon.

Guest's picture

I've heard that a city in Michigan has a similar system where you buy the bags from the city. That covers the cost of collection. Here in San Diego, we have 3 trash bins - black for garbage, blue for ALL recyclables (no separating), green for compostable or yard waste. It cuts down on the amount of trash significantly. (We usually have one or two bags of garbage per week.) Recycling is so easy, just throw all recyclable items in the blue bin. When I go to visit family in Florida, I am HORRIFIED that they throw everything in the trash. What a waste. I think if towns made it simple to recycle, like San Diego does, a lot more people would do it.

Guest's picture

What about cat litter? We use scoopable, scoop it into used grocery bags, tie them off when full and take them to the dump (free, we decided not to pay for garbage pick-up when we moved into our subdivision). These little bags are HEAVY. If we had to pay per pound, I think many people would just give up on cat ownership.

So, no, I would not support this legislation (unless I could "compost" cat feces and urine-soaked litter).

Guest's picture

World's best cat litter is made from corn is lightweight and flushable, its a little pricier but it lasts longer.

Paul Michael's picture

You're right, some garbage is really heavy, like cat litter. We have a cat and that soaked "cement" is dense. Maybe this can come under a separate collection, along with soiled diapers and other heavy but useless materials.

Guest's picture

In LA, we also have three bins - black for trash, green for yard, blue for all recyclables. No sorting. It's not hard to set up a recycling system in your house. We have plastic bin in the laundry room for kitchen recycling (laundry room is next to the kitchen and the garbage bins are right outside the laundry room). We have a nice basket in the office for paper recycling. Once a week, my husband dumps them baskets/bin at the same time he empties the house trash bags.

Now that we started composting, we usually end up with one small bag of trash and one bag of kitty litter each week. The recycling bin is usually half full. The yard bin may or may not be full, depending on the season.

My parents have reduced their trash so much that they were able to get a small trash bin from their city, and had their trash collection bill cut in half!

Composting is also easy to set up. My city has reduced-price compost bins. I bought one, then bought a ceramic composting crock for $20 at Cost Plus. When the crock gets full every couple of days, I take it out. The total time investment is ten minutes per week, but the trash reduction has been significant.

Guest's picture

I think its a great idea. I recycle as much as I can and get very upset when the other people in my household go behind my back and throw away recyclable material. I do know that we will eventually run out of places to put our trash, so we should at least give this a shot.

Guest's picture

I lived in Germany for a time and really liked the bins. However, I lived in a dorm, and some of the other international students didn't quite "get it" - which led to the entire building spending an afternoon sorting the garbage ourselves (I think it was punishment by the Hausfrau).

If people follow the rules, it would work fine. I just have little faith in most of the general public, and think that trash would end up on the side of the road and other places.

Andrea Karim's picture

It would be nice to have more consumer pressure to force businesses to start being smarter with their packaging. As it is, though, I already have problems with people dumping their garbage in my bin - I guess that that could be solved through a series of padlocks.

We have very little garbage because our city composts yard waste and we are avid recycler - my company (not located in Seattle) only composts paper, so I bring plastic and cans home to be recylced in Seattle. So I suppose I wouldn't mind paying for trash, since we don't produce much of it.

Guest's picture

It won't work here -- not for a long time, anyway. Most Americans are so unused to paying for ALL of the products they consume (cradle to grave) that just making them pay to dispose of their own waste in proportion to the amount they generate will spawn a lot of passive-aggressive circumvention of the rules. And, given what passes for civic "discussion" in the U.S. these days, I can see the notion of such a solution stalling out as Congress squabbles over whether these fees constitute taxes -- regardless of their long-term benefit.

Listen to the discussion about increasing the tax on gasoline (much whining about how punitive a tax would be while the price goes up anyway and people finally start paying their own freight) and you'll get a taste of what it would be like to discuss a direct charge for garbage disposal.

Guest's picture

I don't think this should be something that's mandated on a federal or state level, but a local level, since the local government is generally the agency that is in charge of removing garbage. And I would imagine that for most families, this way would be less expensive, especially if the city uses the money it makes from recycling to help pay for disposal of garbage.

Guest's picture

I live in a small apartment. I don't have the space for 5 bins though I do recycle more often than not. The problem is that if we implemented something like this we would probably be charged by the group- much like my water bill. I HATE the idea of paying for someone elses' garbage, especially when many of my neighbors might not "get it" either.

Then let's not forget about cats. I'll be honest, I'm a pretty good hippie and that compostable litter is terrible. I've tried every brand I could find and none of them worked for us. I refuse to suffer through the scent of pee lacing the air my daughter and I breathe just because its the greener option. It's just plain unhealthy.

I don't think this option would work for America, at least not in my lifetime.

Guest's picture

Chiming in from Ithaca, NY - Paying for trash works well here because we have a strong culture of believing small actions make a difference. But we also have support to make it easy to bring your garbage bill down.

We have an excellent recycling system that allows us to recycle nearly everything and we don't have to sort. Everything goes into one big can.

Our local cooperative extension offers frequent classes on composting.

And the city picks up our Christmas trees and yard waste for free.

Without working too hard, I only have 1/2 a small kitchen garbage bag to toss out every 1 1/2 months.

However, after years of charging less to light garbage producers, the city recently got rid of small trash tags meaning those of us who cost the city the least are now paying more to dump. In the summer, letting your garbage sit for 3 months can be a big problem so I'm looking into sharing trash tags with my neighbor.

The key in making this work is not just charging for garbage but setting up an entire system in which producing less trash makes sense for everyone.

Guest's picture

I can see how this would help cut down on waste and also help increase recycling, however, I cant imagine paying this much for waste disposal on top of the taxes I pay right now...

Guest's picture

I live rural and trash pickup costs over $70 per quarter. Our county has recycling stations though. My Mom and I share trash collection--its at my house and I just take her trash home. My kids and I recycle all that we can. Since I won't buy convenience food and we rarely eat out, we don't generate enough trash to fill that huge can every week. It makes me mad that we can't get a reduction and have only a monthly pick up.

Guest's picture

Our town just adopted Pay as you Throw. You buy your annual dump sticker to get access for a year to get rid of recyclables, and then you buy bags to get rid of non-recyclables. For avid recyclers such as us, we've actually been saving money over the old way. We get rid of recyclables weekly and non-recyclables every other week. We compost everything that might stink, or wash stuff out and put it in the appropriate recycle bin (for example, that plastic wrapper around the supermarket chicken). Bones were a problem, so I boil everything with a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to get broth, then crush the bones (the acid makes them soft) and bury the bone meal/chunks under the daffodil/tulip beds in the back yard. Got the kids trained to cut their meat off the bones and immediately throw them into a 'bone bowl' in the center of the table to make broth.

We're a resort area, so the residents have actually been heavily subsidizing the hotels, restaurants, and rental cottages all these years where vacationers cram 14 people in a house for a week and leave ungodly amounts of trash which the business owner was just pretending it was his regular trash. The chamber of commerce fought it tooth and nail crying tales of gloom and doom and everybody going bankrupt, but nobody has gone out of business so far, more businesses are doing a better job of recycling, and the run-of-the-mill citizen likes the program because how much they pay really is in their control.

Guest's picture

IMO, the way to do his is to pay people money for recyclables. I'm no talking about 5 cents a bottle, either.

In my area, grocery stores sell milk in glass bottles and charge $1.50 deposit in addition to the milk price. You better believe I'm going to bring that bottle back to get a refund. If people could get a decent money for paper, glass and plastic, they would be more likely to bring it to the recycling center.

Guest's picture

The only issue I see is the fact that this becomes a fee that the city or county will raise when things get tight, like they are already doing now. Once it becomes common place and the laws are in place, they can start hiking the fees.
Also remember, they are selling that recycled value and still raising rates. And since very few corporations are focused on anything but profit, I don't trust them to maximize their profits as much as possible.
BTW, I live in a town that gets paid to use a trash service, and then bills us for that service.