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Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) is a scheme in which waste fees paid by users are modulated according to the amount of mixed waste delivered to the waste management system. The aim of PAYT is to enact the polluter pays principle in a fair way and its adoption can lead to outstanding results in waste management performance, increasing the amount of waste that is separately collected and sent for recycling while reducing mixed waste.

In a well functioning PAYT system, waste fees to users are based on a fixed plus variable fee component, to reflect the cost structure of waste management and align incentives for users (i.e. lower fee when less waste is produced) and waste collectors (i.e. revenue stability from the fixed fee component). Frontrunner waste authorities adopt waste fees where the variable fee component, depending on the quantity of waste collected, is at least 40%. A PAYT system can be focused on charging for residual waste only or also separated streams, still with the aim of fostering source separation and waste prevention.

Practically, the PAYT system can be implemented in various forms, typically as:

  • volume-based schemes, where waste fees are charged based on the size of containers emptied;
  • sack-based schemes, where waste fees are charged based on the number of waste sacks used, for example collecting only waste disposed in specific prepaid sacks;
  • weight-based schemes where waste fees are charged based on the weight of the waste collected in a given container;
  • frequency-based schemes where waste fees are charged based on the frequency with which a container is left out for collection. This approach can be combined with volume- and weight-based schemes.

All PAYT systems require the identification of individual users, for example adopting specific electronic chips on waste containers and to measure the waste streams collected at individual user level. Moreover, PAYT systems require the definition of a waste unit pricing that effectively drives behavioural change towards reduced waste generation and more and better source separation of waste.

Independently from the form of PAYT adopted, it is essential that the system is complemented by a user-friendly and effective collection infrastructure for the separately collected fractions covering the greatest range of waste types possible. The engagement of residents to ensure a correct understanding of the features of the PAYT scheme is also key for its success, in order to avoid illegal dumping or the transfer of waste to other territories not served by a PAYT scheme.

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