Household Garbage Priced by Its Volume

By , Boston

WHAT happens when a town charges households for each container of garbage?

When Charlottesville, Va., implemented a program on July 1, 1992, that required affixing an 80-cent sticker on a 32-gallon bag of residential garbage collected curbside, two economists - Don Fullerton of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Thomas Kinnaman of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville - were there to find out.

Having gathered data on the weight and volume of weekly garbage and recycling material of 75 households from different parts of Charlottesville before and after the start of the program, they note in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that the householders, on average:

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* Reduced the weight of their garbage by 14 percent - from 10.89 pounds per person per week to 9.37 pounds.

* Reduced the volume of their garbage by 37 percent. They apparently compressed their garbage to get more in one container and trim their garbage bill. The average volume was trimmed from 0.73 containers per week to 0.46 containers. Density of the garbage rose from 14.79 pounds per container to 19.48 pounds.

* Increased the weight of their recyclable materials by 16 percent - from 3.69 pounds per week to 4.27 pounds.

However, the economists say they suspect these homes illegally disposed of 0.42 pounds more per week per person through burning or dumping along back roads.

With rising land prices and new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the average tipping fee paid by a collector to a landfill for accepting a ton of garbage tripled over a recent six-year period, prompting some communities and private firms to introduce volume-based pricing for household waste.

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