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$168 Million Buried in NM Landfills

March 5, 2012 – In 2010, New Mexicans buried $168 million worth of valuable material in landfills instead of recycling it. A new report released by the New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) details the cost to send materials to the landfill, as well as the missed value of materials that could have been diverted for recycling.

The study found that, based on 29 reporting landfills in the state, the average cost to dispose of solid waste materials is $31.29 per ton. Using that average rate, it is estimated New Mexicans spent $51 million to bury $168 million worth of recyclable material.  According to Biocycle, a national publication that analyzes landfill rates, the national average cost to throw away trash at a landfill is $44.09/ton.

New Mexicans recycled 200,000 tons in 2010, the year of the report’s analysis, with an estimated market value of $25 million.

The report was conducted as part of NMRC’s multi-tiered Rural Recycling Development project funded by a grant from the Department of Energy. The information sheds light on the economics of solid waste in the state and recommends solutions to increase diversion. The primary recommendation offered to increase diversion is for communities to use rate incentives, such as setting lower rates for recyclable materials at landfills and to institute a solid waste rate structure known as Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT). More than 7,000 communities around the nation use PAYT, which works much like utility or water billing. A household or citizen pays for how much they use or in this case, how much they throw away.

On average, when a community adopts the PAYT model, they dispose of 45% less solid waste. This is due to the increased amount of materials recycled and also to increased source reduction, a phrase used to describe less waste generated in the first place. General benefits of PAYT include increased material diversion, revenues from recycled material sales, jobs created in the recycling processing and re-manufacture stream, and increased landfill life.

“New Mexico has a huge potential to reap more value from its waste stream. Using an economic incentive structure such as Pay-As-You-Throw, citizens will readily recycle more and purchase more carefully if that means a lower trash bill,” explains English Bird, NMRC Executive Director. “The critical component for that community is to have easy and convenient recycling options available.”

Silver City is currently the only community with a PAYT program in New Mexico. It is NMRC’s goal to see several more communities pilot the program in the next year with more to follow in future years.


New Mexico Landfill Rate Analysis Report

Rate Analysis Executive Summary

The analysis contained in this study was conducted using data gathered from landfills in New Mexico.  The New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) and their subcontractor ICF International developed a survey, which was submitted to the New Mexico landfill managers.  With the data collected, ICF developed this landfill-based New Mexico rate analysis study to shed light on the variety of rates and their setting mechanisms.  This analysis also discusses existing rate incentives that will be used in an outreach campaign to inform and educate about the Pay-As-You-Throw Rate Incentive Program.

Of the 29 New Mexico landfills identified by NMRC, 28 landfills provided a response to some or all of the questions in the survey. The survey responses were collected through an online form and personal communications directly with landfill managers via email and telephone. Based on these responses, an analysis of trends across New Mexico landfills and their rates was conducted. General findings from the survey and rate analysis show that:

  • Of the 29 New Mexico landfills surveyed, 19 charge for residential waste disposal per ton of waste landfilled. For these landfills, the average landfill tip fee for residential waste is $31.29 per ton;
  • In 2010, the total reported waste in New Mexico that was landfilled was 1,664,797 tons;
  • Based on an average tip cost of $31.29 per ton the state of New Mexico spent approximately $51 million to bury waste;
  • Based on US EPA 2010 Franklin Associates Waste Characterization Study, 54% of materials landfilled were commodity materials (paper [34%], plastic [12%], and metal [8%]) that can be recovered through recycling;
  • Recycling commodities equaling 54% of material from New Mexico landfills would result in a tip cost avoidance of $28,000,000 for taxpayers. The recovery and sale of these commodities through recycling could result in revenue of $168,000,000 as well as additional economic growth and job potential;
  • According to the New Mexico Environment Department’s 2010 Annual Solid Waste Report (utilizing 2009 data) the state of New Mexico recycled 200,000 tons of commodity materials, which is estimated at today’s value of $25,000,000 [metal, paper and plastic];
  • Eleven of the landfills reported that they separately track the tonnage of commercial and residential waste streams, with another ten reporting that they do not distinguish between these streams and seven landfills not providing information. Based on the total tonnage reported from the eleven sites, approximately 49% of waste was generated from the residential sector and 51% from the commercial sector;
  • Just over half of the landfills surveyed adopted a weight-based rate structure for most materials they accept (although some of these landfills charge per item for less common materials like tires and white goods);
  • Most landfills have adjusted their rates in the past 10 years;
  • The majority of landfills accept most or all of their residential waste from haulers that use automated collection;
  • Of the landfills surveyed, 22 offer some sort of recycling service;
  • Of the landfills surveyed, 25 reported the tonnage of waste they accepted in 2010, reporting an average of 85,215 tons landfilled per facility, across all waste types;
  • Most New Mexico landfills that collect recycling do not charge tipping fees for recyclable materials;
  • Three landfills recently closed, and another six landfills are planning to close within the next six years; and
  • The average household spends approximately $50 in actual solid waste disposal costs in New Mexico This is a rounded average and will vary from landfill to landfill – but it is an easy number to use for demonstration purposes.

These general findings are helpful for educating about different rate initiatives in New Mexico. Rate incentives are strategies employed by communities to drive down disposal rates by putting a price on the amount of waste each resident or household generates. Under rate incentive programs, such as Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT), residents are charged per unit for the collection of municipal solid waste, creating a direct economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste. Benefits of rate incentives include increased diversion and recycling, increased landfill life, flexibility to adjust rates as needed, decreased tipping costs, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and job development opportunities. However, because each community is so different, there may be barriers to overcome.  These potential barriers may include illegal dumping, transition issues associated with changing the existing system, concerns over increased need for infrastructure and personnel, initial financial start up costs, and the need for education and outreach. The benefits to rate incentives far outweigh the barriers; therefore, it is important to have a proactive education and outreach starting with community officials and stakeholders.

While the specific steps towards developing a successful rate incentive program will vary for each community, several widely used strategies have been successful and are discussed in this analysis. The foundation of a successful rate incentive program is choosing a rate structure that will not only cover the program costs, but positively influence customer behavior. Three strategies that have been successfully used in other states include mandatory state rate incentive laws, landfill regulations, and individual municipal programs.

Click here to view the complete report.


How Would Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) Work In Your Community?

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