About a week before the first twice-yearly payments for 2022 were due, USA Waste and Recycling customers received a letter announcing a 23% increase in the cost of their services. This is on top of a June, 2020, increase of 15% and a January, 2021 increase of 32% increase. Like the fabled frog in the pot of increasingly hotter water, many of us might not have noticed that since USA bought out its small, local competitors, we’re now paying 88% more for weekly trash and recycling pickup. If you want compostable organic material included, that costs another $15 a month – unless it costs something else.
Nowhere on the USA website are prices posted, so it’s impossible to tell what other users may be paying for any of the services offered. One example: a customer who was paying $390 at the beginning of 2020 is now being charged $636.
The Hauler Reform Committee of Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA) began taking a critical look at these services even before costs began to escalate. No matter which firm is doing the hauling, there are currently no incentives for reducing the volume of either trash or recyclables. Further, we were concerned that the organic matter comprising almost half of our garbage (food scraps, soiled paper and cardboard, yard waste, etc.) ends up incinerated or buried in landfills, either adding toxic chemicals to our air or polluting our waterways.
Down the road, the town of South Hadley has taken a different path: directly contracting with a single hauling firm to serve all the dwelling units and businesses in town. Users pay $125 a year into an Enterprise Fund and then $1/bag for small trash bags and $2/bag for large ones. Since they “pay-per-bag,” the less they throw away, the less it costs them, aligning environmental and personal financial goals.
Amherst is not South Hadley and we’re working to both refine a proposal that would include curbside pickup of compostables and to survey hauling firms likely to be interested in bidding on a contract. If readers are interested in working with us on the proposal and advocating for its adoption, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Platt, chair of ZWA’s Hauler Reform Committee, is a life-long environmental activist.