From Trash to Cash

Garbage, garbage everywhere. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

What would motivate you to throw away less trash? Perhaps a healthy dose of environmental guilt would do the trick. Or would it take another kind of green — as in cold, hard cash — to force your hand?

In the latest Freakonomics Radio Marketplace segment, host Kai Ryssdal talks with Stephen Dubner about how trash can turn into cash. There’s been a boom in “Pay-As-You-Throw” trash plans that kicks free riders off the trash bus, and holds people accountable for the volume of trash they produce.

Marketplace Segment

From Trash to Cash

Listen Now

And here’s the beauty part: cities and towns get a new revenue stream. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Here’s where to find Marketplace on a radio station near you.

Sybille Andersen

A problem with "pay as you go" is what happens here on Nantucket Island. For those things which we must pay to get rid of... some folks who do not care about the environment they simply dispose of their bulky items, furniture, refrigerators, toxic products, even regular garbage that would cost nothing to dispose of right at the dump - right in the moors and in the woods. Garbage is thrown out of cars on public roads, tossed on private property, etc... We have mandatory recycling, and no charge for that or household garbage, but here, for large and difficult items to recycle "pay as you go" is not the answer... Other communities will end up doing that too if they do not want to pay the fee.

Daniel Fletcher

The Pay-As-You-Throw trash plan is a sound plan provided that there are guided alternatives to help reduce a person's trash output. Not every person is smart enough to think of ways to reduce the amount of trash they throw out. However, if the plan were introduced in part with, say, a new recycling and composting program, a person's trash output could be greatly reduced so that there fee would shrink as well.

f butts

I used to collect glass and paper for recycling till the county mandated recycling.
now it isn't profitable,if it was I would do a lot more.

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeanette Reynolds. Jeanette Reynolds said: RT @stlouisearthday: Would you accept a charge based on how much waste you sent to the landfill? [...]

Benedikt Heinen

If you wanted to find longer term data - try checking Switzerland.

Here in Zürich, garbage gets disposed in bags issued by the borough. Per 35liter bag, here we pay about $2.50. Without it, there would be a lot more trash - but with the fees, more people look at how stuff can be recycled. e.g. all supermarkets have collection points for PET bottles - returning them is free - opposed to paying for them in your garbage. Similarly, waste paper recycling collections are free. ...

On the other hand, BECAUSE people need to pay for waste, companies are also incentivised to try and minimise the size of product packaging - because less wrapping means less trash the buyer needs to fork out for. In two otherwise 'identical' products, you begin choosing the one with less packaging waste.


The Taiwan part is funny but pretty true... Though some of the apartments have trash center.In some areas, people have to pay for expensive government trash bag, too.


Long time ago I saw a documentary, and somewhere in the Pacific NW the garbage company had added a scale to the trucks. They would weigh the bins before dumping them. At the bottom of each bin there was a barcode with your account info. Your bill would be based on the weight of your container. I thought this was a good incentive to recycle.

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[...] Freakonomics radio produced a segment on trying to get people to throw out less garbage. What is interesting about this is while most people did reduce their garbage with the pay-as-you-throw system, some started dumping it in the woods. Studies have shown that people are more loss adverse than gain seeking. Meaning people will try much harder to hang onto what they have than try to gain something new. [...]

Gayleen Froese

I have a corner lot on a busy street. People in my neighbourhood already dump trash into my yard, without pay-as-you-throw, and I wind up having to clean it up and throw it out. I hate to think how much more trash would be thrown into my yard (and how much it would cost me) under this system.

Freakonomics Radio « Fresh Start Recycling Blog

[...] Trash to Cash? Worth a listen. Seriously, worth a [...]

Mary McVay

It is my understanding that in Germany, shops are required to accept the packaging of the products they sell and that they are responsible for the disposal of the packaging. So, apparently, in grocery stores, shoppers open packages on the way out, leaving behind the packaging. The result is that grocery stores and other stores pressure the distributors and manufacturers to reduce packaging, which they do. This puts the burden where it belongs, on the companies that generate the trash - not the citizens who have little choice as we make necessary purchases. For more information on this and other innovative German policies regarding the environment: