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Guest Editorial

by Gary Liss

The concept of Zero Waste challenges communities to rethink the incentives in place to dispose of waste quickly and cheaply, and to redesign the entire system to reward and encourage waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting instead. Communities can adopt incentives at little or no cost to meet these challenges.

Incentives could include the adoption of policies and the structuring of the marketplace for residential and commercial generators, waste and recycling haulers, transfer station and material recovery facility (MRF) operators, landfill owners and operators, manufacturers and retailers. Key policies are embodied in how communities structure their garbage collection rates, contractor payments, franchise fees, recycling program fees, permit fees, and business taxes.

Support for adopting these tools may be gained from the existing waste collection and disposal industry through early and continuous dialog with all parties of affected interests. By outlining the community's goals but being open to how the details are worked out, communities can usually solve most specific concerns identified by interested parties.

If communities have a long-term franchise or contract, these issues can be addressed whenever a hauler requests a rate increase, permit, contract change or any other help from the community. The best time to make many of these changes is when communities renegotiate their contracts with their haulers, or solicit competitive proposals.

Incentives for Waste Generators
  1. Adopt aggressive "Pay-As-You-Throw" residential rate structures once curbside and yard waste recycling services are available.
    Action Steps
    • If someone puts out twice as much garbage, does it cost less than the first can, the same or more than the first can? Each additional can or bag collected should cost at least equal to the first can or bag.
    • What is the smallest size garbage can that you offer or allow? A further discount should be provided for less than one 32-gallon can of service proportionate to the size of the container.
  2. Adopt incentives for businesses to increase recycling.
    Action Steps
    • Offer "curbside" recycling services to businesses small enough to use the same service.
    • Require franchised hauler to offer recycling services for free to businesses, or at a discount that is not greater than 50% of the rates for waste hauling services.
    • Require franchised haulers to provide at least an equal volume of recycling and garbage bin, cart or can capacity to each business.
    • Review commercial garbage rate structure and eliminate "volume" discounts for large waste generators.
  3. Adopt policies for businesses to increase recycling.
    Action Steps

    • Require businesses to submit 2-page form as a "Recycling Plan" with their annual submittal of business taxes that identifies the total amount they pay for solid waste disposal, what they do to recycle, and what are the biggest fractions of their remaining wastes.
    • Require businesses to achieve recycling goals.
    • Require businesses to source separate designated materials and recyclers to collect those materials.
    • Join with other cities and/or County to promote and provide more technical assistance to businesses to help them implement those policies.
  4. Adopt policies to increase recycling for remodeling and new construction
    Action Steps
    • Require deposits on new construction to be refunded if recycling requirements are met (e.g., Atherton requirement on C&D, which could be applied more broadly than just for C&D debris).
    • Require recycling of C&D debris, use of recycled content products, provision of space for recycling containers, and the establishment of comprehensive recycling and composting services for new construction (e.g., Los Angeles, CA Playa Vista project).
    • Adopt permit fees on new construction to cover the costs to the community of implementing community-wide recycling programs for those developments.
Incentives for Franchised Haulers
  1. Adopt policies and incentives to encourage more waste prevention and recycling when considering rate reviews
    Action Steps
    • Request hauler to provide recycling plan with rate review application that details what recycling services are currently provided, the tonnages they collect, how materials are processed and marketed, what their plans are for future reuse, recycling and composting services, and to identify what help is needed from the City to implement new services.
    • Ask hauler to consider providing additional recycling services (e.g., yard waste collection, bulky goods reuse and recycling, construction & demolition debris, food waste and food-contaminated paper) as part of annual recycling plan.
    • Plans should identify anticipated costs for the coming year, and get City approval of those as allowable cost items in principle, to guide the next rate review.
    • Consider as allowable costs all reasonable waste prevention, reuse, recycling and market development initiatives, including outreach and waste audits (visits) to businesses in community, and financing of on-site recycling equipment and services (e.g., composters for food waste at restaurants).
    • Retain authority to adjust franchise fees annually or as part of any rate review process, rather than having a set rate in the contract. If set rate in current contract, amend contract during rate review process to allow community to change as it wishes in the future. Adopt separate franchise fees for residential and commercial customers.
    • Structure franchise fees for exclusive and non-exclusive franchised haulers to vary according to the overall level of waste diversion achieved (e.g., in Monrovia, CA, franchise fees are 16% for haulers diverting 24% or less, 12% if they divert 25-49%, and 8% if they divert 50% or more).
    • Notify haulers that you will not approve as "allowable costs" the disposal of construction & demolition (C&D) at landfills or as alternative daily cover at landfills for future rate reviews. Require franchised haulers to take all C&D debris to mixed or source-separated C&D processing facilities.
    • Let franchised garbage haulers keep all the revenues from the sale of recyclables; just ask haulers to report the actual revenues received in quarterly and annual reports, so that this amount of revenue can be considered as part of rate review processes.
    • Consider restructuring contractor's payments during rate review process to provide greater incentives for recycling (as detailed below).
  2. Adopt policies and incentives to encourage more waste prevention and recycling when considering a new contract or contract revisions.
    • Pay franchised garbage haulers on the basis of tons recycled, rather than number of households collected (or at least a combination of the two). Consider "capping" the amount paid by household, to force haulers to recover part of their costs and all of their profit from recycling services provided.
    • Structure hauler payments to be paid inversely to the amount landfilled - the more they landfill, the less they are paid, or more costs they have to absorb (e.g., consider landfill disposal fees NOT to be an "allowable" cost in future rate reviews).
    • Pay a "recycling incentive payment" to franchised garbage haulers that collect recyclables. This could be proposed by the hauler and approved by the community, or it could be a category of price to be proposed by competing haulers in response to an RFP requirement.
Incentives for All Haulers
  1. Structure franchise fees to encourage haulers to expand reuse and recycling services offered.
    Action Steps
    • Charge a differential franchise fee to haulers, based on whether or not they have a City-approved recycling program (e.g., In Santa Clara, all non-exclusive haulers collecting industrial wastes must pay the city a franchise fee of 25% of their total gross billings, which is reduced to 10% if haulers meet city adopted recycling standards).
    • Exempt services to collect source-separated recyclables and the revenues from their sales from calculating the "gross receipts" basis for franchise fees.
  2. Charge fees to pay for all community costs of implementing waste prevention, reuse, recycling, composting, buy recycled and recycling market development programs
    • Adopt recycling fees on a strict cost recovery basis.
    • Adopt "Environmental Liability Fee" for haulers to pay only for materials landfilled, not on recycled materials (e.g., Monterey Park, CA charges $4/ton).
  3. Adopt other hauler policies to encourage them to recycle more and waste less.
    • Require haulers to achieve a waste diversion goal (e.g., Sacramento County, CA & Monterey Park, CA).
    • Require haulers to develop recycling plans, either for their own services or for businesses they service.
Incentives for Landfill Agreements
  • Structure long-term landfill contracts to commit to a total capacity of space, not an annual amount or a limited time frame.
  • Require landfill operators to commit to perpetual maintenance and cleanup when they dispose of your community's wastes (required in California facilities, but not out-of-state).
  • Do not send any wastes to landfills that do not have dedicated funds or insurance to cover long-term liability of perpetual maintenance and cleanup (beware future value of corporate assets as "collateral").
Incentives for Solid Waste Facility Operators (if solid waste facility located within your jurisdiction)
  • Adopt a recycling fee or Disposal Facility Tax on solid waste facilities. Exempt all recyclables shipped off site. If done as a recycling fee, must be strictly cost recovery. If done as a tax, levy it on the business, not the activity, and treat all businesses and customers equally.
  • If solid waste facility services a countywide waste shed, have County adopt a recycling fee on that facility for the benefit of all jurisdictions within the County, and distribute fees collected proportionate to the amount of wastes delivered (e.g., Santa Clara County, CA).
  • Require solid waste facility operators as a condition of land use and/or solid waste facility permits to provide discounts for clean source-separated materials.
  • Require solid waste facility operators as a condition of land use and/or solid waste facility permits to provide areas for reuse, salvaging, drop-off, buy-back recycling, composting and retail sales of reused, recycled and compost products.
  • Require solid waste facility operators as a condition of land use and/or solid waste facility permits to divert at least 50% of all incoming materials at their facilities.
  • Require facilities to only accept waste from communities that have complied with waste diversion mandates.
Process to Implement Incentives
  • Review current policies and economics, including fees, taxes, contracts, ordinances and permits. Identify a couple of ideas from the above menu that you think might work in your community.
  • Convene a meeting of key stakeholders in your community to get their input and suggestions about those ideas. Contact other communities that have implemented these programs to find out how they worked, and what they might do differently.
  • Have your attorney draft language and circulate that widely for stakeholder review. Notify the media of the work involved, and seek coverage to get the broadest possible public participation.
  • Build consensus by being flexible in the details of how to implement the idea in your community.
  • Draft your final proposal for action by elected officials. Include options, pros and cons, and/or specific issues raised during the process. Invite stakeholders to participate in deliberations of elected officials.
Copyright 2000 by Gary Liss & Associates, 4395 Gold Trail Way, Loomis, CA 95650, 916-652-7850, All rights reserved. Permission to reprint for nonprofit purposes with attribution and notification to GLA is hereby given.

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