Pay as You Throw

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Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) is a fee based garbage management program designed to encourage recycling and landfill diversion by proportionally charging users for the amount of trash they generate.  In the case of Fall River, MA, citizens can only dispose of their trash using official purple trash bags they purchase at local stores; $2.00 for the large, $1.25 for the medium and $0.75 for the small. On trash day, even when the bag is only partially filled, a homeowner is motivated to throw that bag out if there is food in it rather than endure the nuisance of rotting food for another week. But if the putrescible waste is eliminated, by using a food waste disposer for instance, the user can make that bag last a little longer.

On the other side of the country, Tacoma’s method of trash disposal is different but the incentive is the same. Residents can get a 90-gallon roller cart for $57.90/month, a 60-gallon cart for $38.59/month, a 45-gallon cart for $28.95/month, and a 30-gallon cart for $19.30/month. This means residents can save over $100 a year by dropping down from a 45-gallon cart to a 30-gallon one, and over $230 a year for dropping down to a 60-gallon cart from a 90-gallon one.

Regular readers of this blog understand that a wastewater treatment plant is capable of managing what goes through a disposer.  A disposer doesn’t use a lot of water or electricity and it won’t clog sewers or overload the treatment plant.  But it also helps households in PAYT communities reduce their garbage bill.  Not bad for an appliance that’s been around for over 75 years.

Fall River, MA Zero Waste

City of Tacoma Trash Rates


Coho and Climate Change

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The Wisconsin weather is finally getting warmer and so begins the best time to enjoy my favorite outdoor activities ‒ golf and fishing. This past week I had the pleasure of both, including a successful expedition on Lake Michigan to catch Coho salmon.


Lake Michigan in Racine, WI May 23, 2015

Just as we were planning another trip for the weekend, we were reminded of how volatile spring weather can be. High winds are in the forecast, making it hazardous to fish Lake Michigan. The volatility of spring weather was even more evident this week in Texas when severe rains led to devastating flooding. Obviously, spring is the most unpredictable weather of the year but one has to wonder if climate change is making things worse.

Discussing climate change is a challenge for me because as a scientist I rely on facts and a strong technical foundation to form my position. On the one hand, the CO2 level in the atmosphere is the highest in centuries. At 400 ppm, it is about double the level of a couple hundred years ago.

On the other hand, consider what fraction the CO2 of the atmosphere represents.


Composition of Earth’s Atmosphere

The controversy about climate change usually revolves around one of three things – whether this small component of the atmosphere is to blame for extreme weather (drought, floods and warmer temperatures), whether the increase in carbon dioxide is anthropogenic (man-made), and if we should do anything about it.

I feel pretty confident making the following statement: our infrastructure should be designed for resilience against nature’s impacts, whether it’s rising sea levels or flooding from heavy rains. Engineers must model future weather events to properly design for such incidents and it is prudent to consider how climate change may impact the models. However, modeling uncertainty makes it difficult to design resilient infrastructure that is also fiscally responsible. And so debates ensue whether climate change is real or imagined and whether we should do anything about it.

To me, the best approach consists of simple steps that make good sense for additional reasons beyond climate change. An example is the diversion of organics from landfills and promoting the use of biogas instead of fossil fuels. This practice not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also provides economic benefits at the same time. Along that line of thinking – the Coho were outstanding made on the grill; the secondary benefit of a fun day on the lake.