Opinion: Another Year, Another Steep Price Increase For Trash Pickup

Curbside toters in Berkeley, CA for trash, compost and recycling. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Christina Platt

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.

About USA’s steep increases in fees: “One example: a customer who was paying $390 at the beginning of 2020 is now being charged $636.”

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 zwaamehrst@gmail.com.

Christina Platt, chair of ZWA’s Hauler Reform Committee, is a life-long environmental activist.

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2 thoughts on “Opinion: Another Year, Another Steep Price Increase For Trash Pickup

  1. Correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is that the trend in our town government in recent decades has been to privatize services. I would like to see a community wide re-evaluation of that practice and consider more municipal Enterprise Funded services, or whatever other vehicles are legally possible. Not to digress too much, from the Waste issue but I cannot resist suggesting that our housing problems would benefit from more proactive municipal engagement. IMHO we rely too much on private profit making entities to realize our collective communal priorities and goals.

    I moved to Amherst in 1994. A year or two later I volunteered to be a member of the then “Solid Waste Committee”. The following information is from memory and may have some incorrect facts, but here is what I remember. The town had an Enterprise Fund for solid waste and it operated to the town at about zero cost. In other words the income equaled the expenses. At that time the town offered free weekly recycling pick up. People were required to contract with a hauler for trash pick up or get a waiver to bring their own trash to the landfill/transfer station. The pick up fee at that time was between $100 – $150 per year depending on the level of service. Sometime around the year 2000 the trash haulers offered to pick up recyclables at no extra cost. I was not in favor of that transition but it did happen. Over the course of the next few years the haulers were given permission to charge a small fee $25 – $50 and finally it was agreed that they could just charge a single fee and not have to itemize the recycling part of their service. I have not paid attention to this area of operation for 20 years so I will not comment directly to this issue, but I am supportive of initiatives that explore the expansion of municipal engagement in enterprise services or other means to forward or common goals regarding environmental and social quality and justice.

  2. Thank you for writing this piece Christina. This is an important issue. I wonder how many have taken note of how steeply prices have increased.

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